Category Archives: Magic

Beyond the Dark Tunnel of Mid-December: Everyday Magic, Day 881

As a kid, I dreaded the stretch between New Jersey and New York City when our family station wagon would descend into the underworld, otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel, to cross through the dark waters of the Hudson River. Since then, every mid-December, I feel like I’m transported to the way-back seats of that station wagon to watch the lights of the tunnel sweep over us at regular intervals, all the time praying we make it back to the open air and neon swirls of what’s on the other side.

Part of it has to do with the truncated length of each day, only about 9 and a half hours long near the winter Solstice, but a bigger factor is the quality of darkness. When it gets dark, it gets really dark: a black charcoal darkness that makes driving home past sunset feel like I’m back in that tunnel, especially when I’m beyond the reach of street lights, and the inky clouds wrap tight around those on earth.

This year, the nights seem longer because the son of dear friends, someone we had watched grow from boy to man, died suddenly. I look into the big blanket of gray, frigid air with sadness in my heart — for the sorrow of a beautiful man’s life cut short, and for the seasons of pain my friends and their family are inhabiting. The anniversary of another big loss approaches in a few days, and despite the warmth and lights of winter holidays, I often experience December as having a particularly hard underside.

December has a way of reminding us of what despair echoes within and around us, but it also calls us to see anew in the dark. I think of how David Abram, in his writings, teachings, and in  conversation with us, talks about “the good darkness.” In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, he writes:

The story [of the sun’s journey] follows a kind of perceptual logic very different from the abstract logic we learned at school. It attends closely to the sensuous play of the world, allowing the unfolding pattern of that display to carry us into a place of dark wonder.

In this time of more night than day, there’s exactly “the unfolding pattern” and the subsequent “dark wonder” now visible not just because of what this darkness reveals, but what it conceals, which for me encompasses a lot of bright and shiny distractions. These long nights make it easier to see in the dark, and to see how much our lives are patterned by forces and sources far more vast than our thoughts and habits of thinking.

It turns out this darkness isn’t really a tunnel, but a time to wander through the open and mysterious space on the other side of whatever we’re tunneling through in our lives. It’s also this: a call to learn more about the art and necessity of slowing down, and although I’m a slow learner, I’m looking toward how I can hang out more with what is in between cooking something hot to eat, sleeping more than usual, and right now, watching the dark cedars wave hello or goodbye against the darkening sky.

The Moon is Still the Moon: Everyday Magic, Day 878

I thought I would be crying tears of relief and joy. Instead, I sit in the dark at midnight while Ken tries to sleep, occasionally check on my remaining hopes for Hillary to win (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania), and cry tears of grief and fear in between the bouts of seemingly calm shock. I’ve asked dozens of times, “How could this have happened?” after months of carefully following data on the presidential race, the country’s changing demographics, and my own clear-as-a-ringing-bell sense that all would be well. How could they be wrong? How could I be wrong? How could America be wrong?

Tonight Ken and I gathered with friends to watch the election results over a lovely dinner. As we switched channels, watching one set of pundits and reporters or another — all trying to fill in the gaps between state results with speculation about why, what, and who — I felt like my whole digestive tract was ready to leave my body. I felt my chest tightening, and my hope and faith melting on the floor in a faraway room. Our friends, Ken and I looked at each other, all our eyes sad. It was time to remember a vast reality right outside t10986016_414719278737645_1354126213_nhe door.

So we bundled up and headed out into the dark, cold air, walking across broken and buckling sidewalks somewhat hidden by leaves, the almost-half moon over our right shoulders. We talked of course of potential horrors in between shutters of is-this-happening heartbreak. Then we went to the wishing bench.

Located in east Lawrence, the wishing bench has a sign that says, “Please make a wish. You will not be disappointed.” It’s festooned with ribbons and crocheted pieces, poems and coins, and whatever people bring and leave to it, sometimes Santa Claus, sometimes streamers or wind chimes. I have, especially with the one of the friends there with me tonight, made many wishes here, and we’ve never been disappointed.

The four of us wedged together to called out “Wisconsin! Michigan! Pennsylvania!”, pray, wish, asked America to get it together, and even sing a song usually sung for someone needing healing: “America be well/ America be well/ All manner of being is well….”

img_2744Walking back, facing the moon, all I could think beyond the spinning script of election results and associated terror, is that the moon is still the moon. The sun is still the sun. The air, first hard frost expected tonight, is still the air. The ground — the very ground where I will soon plant dozens of irises, daffodils, hyacinths, even some peonies — is still the ground.

Now in our bedroom, safe from the elements and occupied by sleeping animals of several kinds, I light a candle in a blue glass holder painted with a woman standing in tree pose, her arms and branches reaching out in the dark toward something. I read the quote on my zen calendar, this one by Zora Neal Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Our year has just turned although I can’t yet see the questions we’ll be asking or what those questions will be asking of us, breath by breath. Meanwhile, no matter the outcome, I ask the wishing bench not to disappoint, our bench here, and wherever you can sit for a moment in your life and wish with all your tenderness and fierceness, gratitude and woundedness.

May all manner of beings be well within and beyond this beautiful, divided, vibrant, broken and promised land. May we walk or roll together to do the good work ahead and grow our capacity for love. May we never feel alone under this sky where we share the same moon.

 

L’Shanah Tova — a Poem for the New Year: Everyday Magic, Day 874

TIMG_0056oday is the last day of the Jewish old year before we roll, at sunset, into the year 5777.

As for this old year, all the beings in my house are tag-team napping.  I’m unfurling from a wicked little cold and sinus deal that has laid me out multiple times during the day for wee little naps.  Natalie, who flew in early this morning on hardly any sleep, and Ken, who is also sleep-deprived, have napped on and off, and of course, the cats and dog do their part of the nap relay race although it’s the opposite of a race. When we wake, we drink iced tea or coconut fizz water on the porch, talk about the mad rant of the blue jay at the moseying cat, and watch a bright and lovely afternoon pass in real time.

In between it all, I marvel at the ease of the day, not much to do until making dinner,  rehearsing a bit more for singing (Natalie) and playing cello (me) with Shiray Shabbat (our little band) tonight at services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, and eventually donning dressier clothes and driving into town. It’s a beautiful way to transition, sleep and sunshine punctuated by challah, birdsong, a mild breeze, and the smell of a just-mowed lawn, thanks to Ken.

What to do to welcome this changing of the years? Write a poem, so I did:

L’Shanah Tova

A bird in the tree is worth more than its weight in song

in the wind that sheds another layer of the old year

so that the new one can pour, moment by moment, into us.

In the last buzz of bees, cicadas, grasshoppers,

everyone naps, dog and humans, snakes in the sunny field,

and Osage orange leaves in the change already started.

I wake and start to hum, the afternoon steady

as the gravel on the driveway, also rolling through time.

This named time turns as the old wishes for worth or proof,

ashes sparked upward from a dying fire, dissolve.

The new yearnings have yet to land in the absence of hunger.

When I try to imagine, I can only hear the yawn of distant cars

on asphalt while a spider works something out of nothing,

and an airplane miles above and insects stories below

ferry the past out of its confines to the next landing.

Something beyond names or wishes, composed of what composes,

sings its gifts: the gift of waking, the gift of sleeping,

the gift of change and chill, the beauty that passes

like a bird from power line to horizon, the possibility right now

as ever for love to join the chorus.

 

Your Heart Song: A Poem for Charles Gruber: Everyday Magic, Day 871

IMG_0873Lately I’ve been thinking of my friend Charles Gruber, who died June 15 but left behind an abundance of affection, laughter, stories, and beloveds. So I wanted to share this poem I wrote for him and read at his memorial service after a spring and summer of being lucky enough to be among those close to him at the end of his beautiful life. The title refers to Charles’ favorite Sufi song, “Listen, listen, Listen to My Heart Song,” a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda.

Your Heart Song

for Charles

Listen, listen, listen: how could I ever forget

you with your shining brown eyes, raising your eyebrows

when you bow, hands together at the center of your chest

whenever we meet in an East Lawrence alleyway

or before the glowing dessert case at Wheatfields?

Listen to the lilt of the wind, the hard-won laughter

that comes in the middle of a May afternoon,

when I ask you what dying is like, and we sing

“This Little Light of Mine.” I ask what it means to be

a father, and you sing, “Tickle me once, tickle me twice.”

“Is that what fathering is?”

“How could it be anything but?” you answer.

Listen to Rosie snoring along your side as you try

to catch the words that used to rush through

the river of what you knew, now hidden

in the reeds or thinned to oblivion.

Listen to the stories you tell of Paris hipster lesbians

or Volkswagens with bad mojo, houses no one

or everyone wanted, and mostly, the great loves of your life:

wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

So we listen, wait and listen, and if you fall asleep or forget,

Khabira plays Willie Nelson, the phone rings,

and someone leaves a cherry pie at the front door.

The thunderstorms tell of your enthusiasm for all

that gathers us in a circle and makes us sing,

look into each other’s eyes, and remember.

Listen, listen, listen: your heart song

Ocean View to Porch View: Everyday Magic, Day 868

Yesterday morning, I walked acrosIMG_1758s the narrow beach into the ocean, dipping my toes into the cold Maine waters until, scared and hesitant, I dropped in and swam like crazy to warm up until the sea carried me with ease.

This morning, I walked to my front porch, put my feet up, and stared into the Osage Orange tree and other things in my view, like my car that got strangely covered with bird poop while I was away. I let the chartreuse padded rocker (found years ago in a small-town Kansas thrift store) carry me into quiet.

In between, there were airports, a very strong cup of iced coffee, a narrow plane seat 30,000 feet off the earth with a view of the Jersey island (Long Beach Island) where I fretted as a teen, and IMG_1813surrealist naps between the captain’s garbled announcements. There was the ride to the Portland Jetway with an old friend/ Goddard student who shared the moving, drastic, and ultimate healing story of losing his home to a fire. There was a lobster roll and very salty potato chips at one airport, and a Philly pretzel at the other. There was the baggage carousel with finally Jerry’s suitcase to grab, the luggage left to me by my dearly-departed friend who still travels with me. There was Ken late at night and the beautiful and car-fumed air of the home airport, then the ride where as usual, I alternated between talking at high speed and staring into the blur of familiar highway sites. Then there was the house waiting for me, complete with cat vomit in the entry way, a very happy dog, my beautiful sons, a clean kitchen counter, and a whole lot of mail.

Balanced precariously on the ledge of these merging views, I recover from close to two weeks away and all the beauty and exhaustion that filled that time. I run to the garden in the morning in my nightgown to graze on tomatoes and consider what to plant for a fall garden. I nap deeply for hours, then find out it was just 10 minutes. I plant a big dinner while watching the many hummingbirds from this porch, then decide yogurt and fruit is best.

The view behind, the view ahead, and the view now hangs mysteriously together when I see a fast orange butterfly reminding me that just yesterday how a bunch of us in the ocean pointed up and laughed when we saw a black butterfly. Motion links us.

A Young Woman in the Land of Yoga: Everyday Magic, Day 867

13268489_1102129356513548_3281435603494530995_oThis weekend, my daughter Natalie will graduate from her yoga teaching training at Your Yoga in Minneapolis, a fine yoga center and school, six years after she first fell for yoga. When I visited with her in June, I found this post I wrote for a non-defunct yoga magazine, and in honor of her upcoming graduation, I share her first immersion into the land of yoga:

A Teenager In The Land of Yoga: 2011

Within the last year, my 18-year-old daughter—who I’d been inviting to come to yoga class with me for years—finally said yes. With a little trepidation for how much she might later make fun of chanting “Hare Krishna” or doing some intensive Pranayama, I drove us to Gopi’s yoga studio in the country where, surrounded by oxen, peacocks and kittens, I somewhat-regularly attend Monday night yoga class. We kicked off our shoes, walked upstairs to the yoga studio and set up mats and blankets.

Living with a pact of teenagers and young adults, I’m so attuned to life in the den of sarcasm that it’s hard to me to imagine reactions from my children that don’t include rolling of the eyes and shaking of the head along with that tell-tail sigh that leads into “Ma….om,” said in two syllables to emphasize how little I know. Which is true, but you don’t want to let onto a bunch of teens that the older you get, the less you actually know about anything anymore, so what little illusion of authority you think you have will be altogether blasted away. Given this, I had to wonder how Natalie would react, especially given the long stretch of chanting in the beginning, how Gopi led us in massaging our own feet, the long and deep forays into sun salutation, the quiet exploration of a mudra with our fingers doing their little gymnastics, and the instructions to imagine the lotus at the center of 13734949_1133197786740038_5973846212292012342_oour hearts, “ever fragrant, ever fresh.” I could see the flatulence jokes on the hoof.

After the 90-minute class, ending with a long corpse pose, we sat up, said “Namaste,” visited a little, and then headed downstairs to shoes, kittens outside longing for affection, and the car. “What did you think?” I asked Natalie as she fastened her seat belt.

“Those kittens are so cute.”

“Yeah, they are, but what did you think about the yoga?”

“I loved it.”

“All of it? Even the chanting and massage?”

“I loved everything about it. It’s the most relaxed I’ve been in months. I’m going to rearrange my work schedule so I can go with you every Monday night.”

Since then, she’s gone off to college, but whenever she’s back home, one of the first questions is when Gopi is teaching the next yoga class. Although she’s not so interested in doing yoga with me at our house, she’s now taking back to college with us an armful of yoga DVDs and a list of local classes to check out. Turns out that sometimes you can lead a horse to water and get her to drink….or in the case of my daughter, lead a teenager—who would otherwise be watching music videos, chatting on Facebook or making a pizza—to yoga where she can and will come home to herself.

13407042_10156953346325484_1123772047341389744_nAround the time I wrote this, I was dipping my toes in, then leaping into the refreshing vistas  of asanas, yamas, niyamas, and other parts of yoga Eight-Fold Path. Six years later, Natalie is wandering that land in everything from crow to corpse post. In between, she’s been sharing her growing love for yoga with others through seeking the clearest words and gestures to teach yoga in the right curve of each moment, both in her yoga teacher training, and in the classes she leads in her living room.

When I first fell in love with yoga, I was in for one of the biggest surprises of my life. Over the years since cancer and some gut calling sent me to the mat, I’ve continued to fall in love all over again with yoga, breath by firey breath, and stretch by heart-opening stretch. Seeing how much yoga gives this young woman, and how much she’s giving others already with her whole being, my wonder is multiplied by joy and contentment. Congratulations, Natalie, and may you continue to walk, sit, stand, and reach in the land of yoga.

Becoming a Parent Is Not What You Think: Everyday Magic, Day 865

Daniel with his grandmothers
Daniel with his grandmothers

27 years ago today, I was in labor at the with my first child at Topeka’s Birth and Women’s Health Center. It was wicked hot. The waves of contractions had been knocking me down for many hours since my water broke at Liberty Hall in the middle of a nightmare-ish film about the Bubonic Plague. A lot was going out the window quickly, foremost the plans I had about how childbirth would be a challenge I could manage, the birth would be quick, and the baby would be born healthy.

27 years ago tomorrow, I was in a nearby hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, my fabulous midwife and doctor from the birth center having recommended this and now wrapping their arms around our family along with other great supporters. Our newborn, Daniel — who tends to not take the easy route in life for most things — inhaled amniotic fluid on the way out and was born unresponsive to things like breathing on his own quickly enough. Ken and I were standing by his incubator, our hands through the openings so he could hold our fingers with his small fists. He was full-term, strong and relatively healthy, but we wouldn’t get to bring him home until July 14, Bastille Day. As it turned out, it was the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day, and public radio played many renditions of the Marseillaise (click here for musical accompaniment to this post). The whole day, we kept telling him, “You’re free!”

He was free, and we were beginning our long fall and rise to freedom from whatever we thought becoming a parent was, a lifelong unfolding of how deep, hard, rewarding, joyful and heartbreaking love is, and how little control we have over just about anything but watering the garden, doing the dishes, and making a strong cup of tea.

998133_10151975373082684_1011344908_nNow that we have three 20-something children, the surprises continue, sometimes picking up speed, and sometimes lulling us into the notion that humans have real ground their feet. I mean, we do have the real ground of the earth, but when it comes to thinking we always know best where to step next, not so much. Becoming a mom has immersed me in a kaleidoscope of intensives, from learning about various physical ailments from epilepsy to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, to studying the nuances of SAT applications, healing modalities off the beaten path, car insurance policies, best inexpensive motels without bedbugs and with pools, and IEPs (Individual Educational Plans). We’ve tutored our kids (and ourselves) on how to balance a checkbook, what not to say to your boss, where to find the best yard sales, how to facilitate a meeting, and why great movies, kickass enchiladas, and dark chocolate matter, especially when the chips are down and the stress is up.

We’ve collected irreplaceable stories together, like what could go wrong after driving in mountains for seven hours, then eating too much before getting into a flimsy tent during a thunderstorm. We’ve driven, flown and taken the train all over the country to see relatives, attend funerals or weddings, and try to relax at the Grand Canyon or in the Rockies when our kids would rather fight over the remote control for the hotel room TV. We’ve also had thousands of long talks, including a good many Jewish versions of “come to Jesus” talks (as they call them in the Midwest) about grades, honesty, chores, habits, crushes, friendship, and the screwed up world we’re leaving to them, broken with ecological devastation, racist killings, war-torn countries driving immigrants to risk dying on flimsy rafts, and widespread trauma. p328116755-4

It’s exhausting and overwhelming, glorious and dismal at times. There’s no end to this job as my friends with kids in their 40s and 50s remind me. There’s no end to the piercing hope and desperate prayers for each child to find his or her own best way. Luckily, there’s no end to the love, and the capacity I didn’t know I had to begin again, especially when it comes to edging out another inch of forgiveness for all of us.

So on this birthday of starting my climb, fall, and long walk through a great many parenting parking lots and prairies, I want to celebrate freedom, folly, and wish my oldest son a sweet birthday. Nope, being a parent is not what I thought it would be. It’s vaster and better and, like this day that turned from cold thunderstorms to hot clear skies, always in motion.

A Bedroom Full of Fireflies: Everyday Magic, Day 864

There they were for the last two nights: a dozen or more fireflies stitching their green light across the bedroom, rising toward the danger of the ceiling fan, spinning out in iridescence before gaining enough traction in the air to fly right again, or simply landing on top of our blankets or in my open purse.

“How did they get here? Is there a door open?” Ken asked on Sunday night, propelling me to walk the dark house where all the doors and windows were closed, but lightning bugs hovered over the living room couch and the bathtub. When we looked out the window, we saw thousands of their kin, lifting and lighting over the cucumbers, ornamenting the back deck, and rushing around their mosh pit of the field. It’s a banner year for fireflies, and we could only guess that they moseyed on in without noticing they were leaving behind the larger atmosphere for the smaller one.

We talked about airlifting them to the safety of the fields, but it’s hard to catch and carry a firefly without injuring him or her, and besides, the light show was too entertaining. Although Ken unfortunately rolled over on one, for the most part, they seemed to be doing what fireflies do: call out to each other with light and speed, and wait for the return call. They also did things I never imagined, like four of them lining up precisely from the floor IMG_1172beginning at the end of our bed down the short hall to the beginning of the bathroom. “It’s a landing strip to direct me to the bathroom,” I told Ken.

Last night we shut the lights to find them still turning on and off, winking at the fireflies on the other side of the window, and still grappling with the forces of good and evil emanating from the ceiling fan. Today, the Zen calendar spoke to their light. Tonight we hope the fireflies will return to speak to each other while we snore and dream.

Charles Is A Force of Nature: Everyday Magic, Day 862

IMG_0873Just now, the wind picked itself up and gusted up to 40 mph after the very still, humid and over-the-top hot day of Charles’ death. No rain, no storm, no big wind expected, but as I write this, in the dark on the porch, the sky flashes all directions in dark purple and curls of lightning, a lone cricket sings his song, and the wind is moving some of the furniture just a little. Thunder rumbles to the west, some young trees go horizontal, and I know this force of nature has a name: Charles.

Charles was one of the first Lawrencians I ever met, in about 1981 when I was a member of the Kansas City Sufi community, where Charles and his wife Khabira would sometimes visit. I was dazzled by Charles’ exuberance about Dances of Universal Peace and, as I learned over the years, most things. It’s an understatement to say he’s one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet, embracing many paths and many communities. Charles was a Jew, a Sufi, a Shaker, a Quaker, a Buddhist, and likely felt kinship with many other spiritual traditions. He dealt in Volkswagen repair, real estate transactions and management, mentoring men, and lots more. A father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he was especially excited about his family, and he bowed with his hands together at heart center whenever he saw us as if we were each his favorite human.

Charles died this morning at our local hospital after years of cancer and months of an especially difficult end. I was going to visit him in the afternoon with Ken, but because of a mix-up regarding differing news of his condition, I went over earlier to find Khabira and the lovely hospice people sitting quietly. I plopped myself on the stool next to Charles, and asked how he was doing. “Oh, did you not know?” Khabira asked. When she told me, I burst out crying, shocked that a long-time-coming death could actually come.

Sitting by Charles, I was struck by what I’ve experienced at other deaths, including my father’s: how death seems strangely ordinary. Dying? Not so much, and especially not in Charles’ case after weeks of intense pain, love, holding on, letting go, and the combination of uncertainty, morphine and cancer that spins everything into a vortex. But death, this fresh and close-up, as many remarked over the day, is so surrealistic. How could someone alive be dead when life titters on its meanderings, noise and heat all around us?

IMG_0875The time in the hospital was infused with peace and sadness, forms to fill out, calls to make, and puzzling over what of our collective vehicles was the best way to get Charles from hospital to home where the family was doing its own home-grown funeral direction. We settled on a van even though seats had to be removed, and soon, some of us were carrying Charles into his office, a separate building behind his home. We had a cardboard insta-coffin to fold together after deciding to put the “handle with extreme care” side on the inside so that tomorrow, friends and family can decorate the outside with messages and images of love and goodbye.

In little time, off the cuff and steering by the heart, we made a ceremony of washing the body, moving Charles into the cardboard coffin, and with lots of hard work and engineering (and a pair of scissors), getting him into a beautiful robe he’s worn for many religious occasions. Ken and one of the hospice people lifted his head and shoulders enough for me to wrap his Tallis, a Jewish prayer shawl he had for years and that Jews are customarily buried in, around him. I even wound one of the fringes of the tallis around his finger, a sign of active prayer. Throughout the work of our hands, we sang one of my Charles’ favorite Sufi songs — “Listen, Listen, Listen to My Heart Song,” read some blessings for the body and four directions, burned sage, sprinkled holy water and rose petals on him, and learned how to activate bags of dry ice. The whole thing was simple, spontaneous, necessary and tender.

UntitledNow Charles the Storm envelopes us, breaking the heat wave for this moment with cool wind and sweet rain. “I’ve never seen a storm on radar like this one,” Ken says right now as he sits beside me in the dark.

“What is this storm like?” I ask.

“Indescribable. It’s like there’s a mega storm with a huge center, just west of here spinning off all these thunderstorms.”

We look at radar, and see a wheel of weather, sending change many directions at once. Not an ordinary storm but a force of nature, like Charles: original, life-giving, exuberant, and full of magic. All around, there’s lightning bugs and lightning, wave and particle, a big fireworks display across the clouds in the shapes of fast-moving rivers or tree branchings, and in the fields, thousands of small lanterns blinking on and off like heartbeats. Dance in peace, dear friend.

Saved (Again) By Music: Everyday Music, Day 860

Celebrating Claudia's birthday at the concert with Michel Loomis
Celebrating Claudia’s birthday at the concert with Michel Loomis

Listening to the astonishingly spirited Claudia Schmidt perform a house concert in Old West Lawrence last night, despite the sauna-esque glow of where I was sitting, I felt tapped on the shoulder to turn around and change. For the last few months, alternately freaking out, napping on the porch, guzzling caffeinated beverages, hugging good friends, complaining, breaking open my heart, talking with Ken while we lie in bed exhausted and overwhelmed, eating too many cookies and other new normals of Deathwatch 2016, I’ve tended to forget that every living moment is not consumed by intensity and crisis. Thankfully, somewhere in the middle of one of Claudia’s songs, reality broke through and said, “Snap out of it, Caryn! It’s just right now.”

Right now varies of course, and lately, it can especially seesaw from a F4 tornado to light-breezed blue-skied views. But right then at the concert, it become abundantly clear that I could drop the 62-pound backpack of grief singing at the speed of emergency, and sit happily on a small folding chair, letting Claudia’s high and low-pitches woos, scatting, and shimmering voice, guitar or dulcimer, and presence of tenderness, freedom, friendship, justice, awareness and welcome shine through me. Each note, each breath, helped me tilt just enough to catch the present and remember how much I love this life, this music, these people, this place, this time even.

Music also holds memories and holds us. When Claudia sang “Hard Love,” I followed the river of the last 35-something years from when I first heard this song, concentrating then as I did last night on the words, “the only kind of miracle that’s worthy of its names/ because the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love.” I also got to talk about that song with Daniel, now 27, but probably a baby when he first heard it, about what hard love can mean. Another song, “These Stairs,” brought me back and forward as I thought about what it means to die at home. “The Strong Women’s Polka,” a newer song she wrote and sang, brought us together in laughter, recognition and singing along with the chorus, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes me you wish you were dead.” It also reminded me of the power of music to knock us into hysterics, the happy kind, and make community out of audiences and performers.

Music has saved me all my life, from the first songs my mother sang me that made me feel less fear and more beauty, to what I’m listening to right now, “When the Deal Came Down,” a song I co-wrote with Kelley Hunt sung by Kelley right here. This morning in the bath, I listened to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s gorgeous rendition of “10,000 Miles,” which imbued the movie “Fly Away Home” with deep waves of healing and homecoming. I cycle through long stretches of the guys too: Bruce Springsteen, Greg Greenway, Leonard Cohen as well as more show tunes than perhaps a person should ingest in a day. On the way to town today, I was thrilled to hear Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story,” music that picks me up and puts me back down as a more coherent human. Altogether, music reminds me that I’m a buzzing, changing, churning and rhythmic body held in the larger body of community and the earth.

Music — just as the song Kelley and I wrote, “Music Was the Thread” — has held together my story and held me together continually, a heartbeat sounding in the background and center of life as I know it. Here is a poem I wrote in the last year about that thread:

The Thread

 

My mother singing “Tora Lora Lora,”

the Irish lullaby even though we were Brooklyn Jews.

The vacuum on the shag carpet. The singular birch

shaking over the hapless window sill. The humming refrigerator.

The chants encasing me in each swayed note as I wrapped

my thin arms around my cold chest in the cavernous synagogue.

The creak of the swing as I turn horizontal, defying gravity

in the static of the transistor radio. The loud slap on the bass notes

of the body that make bruises, then the slow breath

of forgiveness, pacing until the danger is gone.

All the possibilities in each library novel about a girl,

afraid at the start, but about to do something

to swirl the calm pond of her life. The first kiss in the back

of the school bus broken by applause. The sound of thunder,

an interior roar like hunger. The old staccato of my father’s anger

before it dissolved into the tenderness of defeat.

The way some mornings rev up like motorcycles

coming point blank toward us. The exhaling speed

of rivers, starving for new ground, or betrayed

by sudden shorelines that break the water into remembering

willows. Bike tires on wet pavement, downhill,

at dawn. The happy rhythm of the subway rocking my spine

in and out of alignment with the dark as we tunneled

through water back to air, the miracle of one rushing animal

carrying us all. This buzzing body ferrying millions of cells into sound.

For the Claudia Schmidt concert, big thanks to Burdett and Michel Loomis for hosing us in their beautiful home, Bruce and Peggy Kelly for bringing Claudia (and bringing her back to Kansas!), Kat for all the home-made goodies, and for hauling in and out many chairs and a big sound system, Forest, Daniel, Thomas, Bruce, Burdett and others. Bouquets of gratitude to Claudia too!