A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Our pastor asked Ann and me to write a paragraph about prayer. That’s impossible! I never write just one paragraph. Besides, I wasn’t sure what to say about prayer.
When I was very young, prayers were the words I used to delay going to bed. My parents remember I blessed Mommy and Daddy and every other person and thing I could think of. They’re probably right that I was stalling, but what if I really had been so grateful for every person and thing. That’s a lovely thought. 
As I grew up, and our family grew, my little sister put her hand on top of her head when we said grace over dinner. I suppose that makes as much sense as any gesture of prayer.
In my teenage years, prayers seemed endless. At Thanksgiving dinner, I remember Mom asking her brother Tommy to pray before we ate, and I remember Aunt Cindy yelling, “Keep it short!” He never did. I thought he was long-winded, but perhaps he was just so grateful for the food and the hands that made it that he couldn’t keep it short. (Kind of like me and my “paragraph” about prayer.
Every night before dinner, Ann and I say a prayer, a few words that Ann noticed in the liturgy twenty years ago, when Jim Head-Corliss was our minister. Those who visit our home know this prayer because we say it every night. “Oh God,” we say as we hold hands with each other and anyone else at our table, and close our eyes, “Remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.” For us meal, and especially dinner, is a sacred time, a time of communion.
The only time in the last twenty years that I have not voiced that prayer was just after my brain tumor diagnosis. For a couple of dinners, Ann voiced the prayer, and we held hands. As I cried, I nodded so God might know I agreed but was in too much pain to say all of life was grace. 
We voiced other prayers in that time. One night before going to sleep, Ann asked, “Should we pray?” and again I wept as Ann voiced our prayer. Also, before I went into neurosurgery, our minister at the time, Jim Carter, said a prayer that settled my nerves and helped me enter this unknown with some peace about my lack of control.
In much of our lives, however, prayers have not been words to God with our heads bowed and eyes closed. These prayers have been in moments that we remember are sacred: practicing yoga, reading a well-loved poem, marching for justice, witnessing this area’s stunning beauty from a bike (or trike) seat or a hiking path or napping at the edge of a mountain lake on a warm rock any sunny day. 
When our pastor asked us to reflect on prayer, I thought first of a line that seems unconnected to the rest of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day”: “I don’t know what a prayer is.” The line occurs at the middle of the poem, and the rest of the poem belies that claim:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Prayer, the poet seems to be saying, is slowing down to notice the world’s wonder. In that noticing we ask questions of creation, of living and dying, and about our wild and precious lives.

P.S. I also like Mary Oliver's poem "Praying," and "I was Just Standing," another her poems about prayer. And Rumi's quotation: “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground” from this poem

Friday, July 13, 2018

Annabella at 98

Most weeks, my partner Ann and I visit Annabella, who used to live two houses down and now lives in a group home for assisted living.  She lived in her home until last year, her 97th. Some days, even moments, she’s agitated and confused and others she’s fairly lucid, appreciative of her daughters and the workers and place where she’s staying. On these days, she’s reflective and funny. I have always loved her sense of humor. Monday was a lucid day, a day of much gratitude, and I want to share it with you before it gets lost in some cluttered drawer in my memory.
When we arrived, a white-haired woman in her late fifties was talking with her mother in the garden, and Ann stepped into the shade with them to say hello.
When Ann said, “Vicky?” the younger woman’s chin dropped and she nearly skipped around to hug Ann. Vicky and Ann knew one another when Vicky was in her twenties and was a good friend of one of Ann’s previous students. 
After introductions, Vicky shared with us what a caring group home this has been for her mother and how caring the owner was when Vicky’s partner’s mother had lived here and had to move to a group home in Canada for insurance reasons. The owner even flew with this woman to Canada!
As Ann and Vicky reconnected, I went inside to see Annabella. I wanted to be sure to catch her before her afternoon nap. (Ann and I have arrived too late twice and watched Annabella sleep in that green lazy boy chair in front of the mesmerizing television video of colorful fish swimming in and out of coral.)
Monday, Annabella sat at the first table I came to when I entered. She said she knew who I was immediately, but she worried about Ann. I tried to tell her about Vicky, but that was too complicated, so we agreed Ann was parking the car. 
When Ann joined us, Annabella told us how beautiful the flowers in the garden are. There were also blue and pink hydrangea blossoms on the table. “Beautiful,” she kept saying.
She also told us how nice it was to have four friends visit yesterday, and she agreed that her hair, which was short and curly, looks real nice. “I have good hair,” she said, something she’s said across the 22 years we’ve known her.
She told us about the women getting her up in the mornings for breakfast. She says, “Let me sleep a little longer!” but they lift her legs and make her rise. She was being funny about how stubborn she is in the mornings, and I heard the women in the kitchen talking and laughing about her rendition of their mornings.
At one point, Vicky walked behind Annabella and mouthed to Ann, “She’s a character.” Yes, she is. 
Another week a woman who’s 103 was sitting close to the television where we were. Annabella nodded her head towards this woman and said, “She’s been dead two days.” Another time she had gotten her hair done and thought she was at the beauty parlor. She looked at a bald man who sat in the room watching the fish swim, and she said, “I don’t know why he’s here. He doesn’t have any hair.”
She is definitely a character, and it is so nice to see her in these grateful, easy moments. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll be like next week, but this week was lovely.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fourth of July

I don't like the 4th of July: all that boisterous banging and war games rattles me, reminds me of how many kind and loving people love the bang of power. I also don't like the banging on New Year's Eve or the booming when the blue angels fly and refly over our home again and again at Seattle's Seafair. (My puppy doesn't like them either. I'm angry. She shivers.)

Having survived the 4th, I need to clear my mind, so I'm cleaning my desk. (I can now see the wood in one corner--I've been working on this about eight hours.)

I've come across some lovely quotations and poems in the process. They calm me. Maybe they will calm you, too:

“There are some things we learn on a stormy sea that we never learn on calm, smooth waters.”—Danny L. Deube

 "If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat."  --John Ortberg, Jr.  

Raise your words, not your voice.
It is rain that grows flowers,
Not thunder.

Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. – Ernest Hemingway

“Let today be a day where you take nothing for granted.
For life is fleeting, fragile and precious and can change on a whim.
Say all the things you really want to say to your loved ones today,
say the things you would regret should they pass on and your words remain unspoken. Rejoice, for you and they are alive today …
and should you or them pass on to unknown shores,
rejoice even more for you have a wonderful love story to tell.”
– Jackson Kiddard
 “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” 
--Yoda in Attack of the Clones

“Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” 
--Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back