More on Thorton Wilder and Self Appointed Sins

imageI know nothing,

except what everyone knows –

if there when Grace dances,

I should dance. ~ W.H. Auden

(image above from This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrations by Anita Lobel)

Spoiler alert #1: This post is initially about sad stuff.
Spoiler alert #2: Life is being particularly good to me right now, so I’m not sitting down in order to write a “dark night of the soul” blog post.

So, here it is.

I have a friend who is dying of brain cancer.

She is a college friend with whom I’ve kept up only a little bit over the years. Originally, our acquaintance was that we shared a best friend and became housemates at the busiest (and best!) part of my favorite. four years. ever.

Without searching messages, I have to guess that it was a year (or less) ago that this common best friend had to notify me that a grim diagnosis had been given to our former housemate. The news really came out of the blue. Her story is similar to others who have been touched by this shocking form of cancer. Our friend had a headache one day, and a few short months later she is now home saying her last goodbyes to her children and adored husband.

So, when I sat down to write last week, and was imagining K.’s children spending their summer break watching her pass on, Thorton Wilder quotes were a kind of obvious (to me anyway) place of comfort and wisdom for me.

It’s safe to assume that if you are an American following or stopping by my little blog you have seen Thorton’s play Our Town. It is a favorite of High School and Community theaters for a reason.

It has the best theater lines, ever.

I mean – ever.

I am biased and my reasons are of course personal, but I mean it.

I would offer to turn this post into a place of debate or discussion, but I hate debate and my opinion is not up for ransom or reason. I’m not a jerk though, so feel free to leave comments as I am on summer break (wiggles in her seat) and have time for lively discussion.

So.

The conversations between Emily and The Stage Manager (the lead characters of the show) contain the safest and best theater words for me because they remind me of the enchanted parts of my childhood.  My father was an actor, director and teacher and I was his shadow. Literally. As in, Dad couldn’t shake me from his side until my brother broke the rules and taught me how to cross the street alone. At this point I started wandering the streets of our little city and making friends my own age.

So, lucky I am indeed to have shared the stage with my father on the weekend that he retired from his favorite stage. Mind you, these are floorboards that he spent the most time on as a student, theatre professional, husband, and father. He turned 80 this year, so I would guess that time span to be something like 50 or 60 years, give or take a summer season elsewhere here and there.

We were part of a medley of theater scenes during a reunion show, and part of our daughter/father “I love you” ‘s were exchanged in the form of my playing Emily and he the Stage Manager in Wilder’s tender “Good-bye Scene.”

But still – had I been raised by a biologist and my best skill set turned out to be bee-keeping, I would still believe that (with due respect to the Shakespeare) Emily’s good-bye is the most relatable “to be or not to be” string of words out there.

All good theater is good because the script is about life, death, love and hate. Most likely, the writer created an entertaining time travel to all four corners of human experience and wrapped the story up with a bow at the end.

Even good existential shows wrap up at the end – it’s just a tricky “un-bow” kind of curtain call.

What makes the pleading questions that Emily asks of the Stage Manager so perfect is that the joy and pain that she describes can’t be contained by cultural and historical context. Of course her character works well for me because I am a white girl having been raised by a mid-western father, so a white picket fence story is what I know and the life I cherish.

But, context aside, in Our Town, when the character Emily is looking at her life, and struggling with having passed on as a very young woman, her self-doubt and guilt is not about whether or not she raised good children or was a faithful wife.

And. Her anger at the Stage Manager is not that she died young.

She is upset because she missed out. She failed to acknowledge grace as often as she could.

 

And, with the help of the Stage Manager, her self-appointed sins are absolved as he explains that:

she did what she could, with what she had, in the time that she had to do it.395895_10150596300328810_837678809_8894478_1239777666_n

 

All of which to say, I am VERY thankful for an open window this morning, time to reflect and am reminded to not try so hard.

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An Ignatian approach to Letting my Sons Grow

Photo by Linda Douglas, Ripley Ohio

Photo by Linda Douglas, Ripley Ohio

To those of you who have ever followed the suggestion to take a difficult life transition and pray over it: Have you ever done just that, only to be left with the feeling of being even more exposed and mixed up than when you sat down with your (now luke warm) coffee?

That’s what happened for me just now.
Morgan and Theo gift

Rather than the familiar: “golly gee, thanks God, that was a nice little hug” type of reflection, I ended up with an unwound ball of yarn pile of emotions. I started with an Ignatian reflection by Maryanne Rouse (Creighton University, College of Business) and followed her suggestion to imagine I am a part of the first reading in today’s Catholic Lectionary.

Here is what she wrote:

Can you imagine–40 days of face to face conversation with God? That is the experience of Moses, according to today’s First Reading. We don’t know who was speaking more of the time–God or Moses? The conversation transpired behind a closed tent. What we are told is that at the end of this time, Moses comes out with the “words of the covenant,” the Ten Commandments in hand.

This First Reading cries out to be addressed with Ignatian Contemplation prayer, that is, the form of prayer that Ignatius did not invent, but popularized in the Spiritual Exercises. Imagination is a key tool.

To enter into this form of prayer, you need to set aside thoughts that you are not imaginative, that God cannot speak to you through this tool as God does through other tools, e.g. thought, feelings, senses, to name a few.

First, read the entire text, Exodus 33: 7-11; 34: 5-9. 28. Next place yourself in the scene: What do you see? What can you hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Maybe not so much to taste in this story, though you may be aware that this entire time, Moses neither ate nor drank anything.

Then rewind the story in your mind after inserting yourself into it. When I have prayed this, I have found myself taking the part of a serving girl, totally left out of the action and not happy… Next step: what might God want to say to me through my place in this story?

I tried imagining myself as several different people – I was Moses, the wife of Moses, a pregnant mom, a too old to be pregnant mom…no matter how I read it though…I was a mom, and my son was going off to try to understand what instructions God was giving him.

Behind my closed eyes, no matter how my imagination sliced and diced the scenes, these plans involved travel for him and none for me. For days on end there would be no communication with my son the pilgrim. By allowing myself to imagine this as the time of Moses and young Joshua (an assistant to Moses) a good old-fashioned pile of letters wasn’t even coming forth.

It was me, a dusty tent, and a bunch of stars with no answers while the rest of the campsite snorted and snored the night away.

This all happened in ten minutes of prayer. Fertile imaginations are not necessarily something to envy if you struggle to let your mind wander.

After making some Eggos for our 11 year old, I went back at the reflection for another five minutes or so. It was like the maddening experience I’m having with one of our computers: we turn it on, it boots up, then boots itself back down…then, brrrzzsssuuuppt beePbEEp…it boots back up in an endless loop without ever actually starting up.

Same images, same tears, same not knowing where my kid is or what Moses is telling him to go off and do with his life.

Internet access denied, quick and easy answers unattainable.

On one hand, I didn’t need 30 minutes of tearful prayer to know that I am having trouble coping with the fact that my son, the one whose personality tends to mimic mine, is looking at colleges that are eight hours away. As in, he is waking up this morning in a hotel with his dad and is right now on campus with energetic and brilliant tour guides. As I sit here and type, a young Jesuit scholar is chirping away about how great life became as soon as he left his weeping mother, and for the first time in his boring life, he discovered the depths of his being and mind in the hallowed halls of the University of ForgetToCallHome.

I’m exaggerating. I could not be more excited for this kid. He is bored. He has been bored in school for a very long time, and I’ve been saying forever that college will be his time to shine and let that intellect of his go hog-wild.

Sunrise on the Ohio River, Ripley Ohio

Sunrise on the Ohio River, Ripley Ohio

So, that’s what I’m up to this morning. If you too are feeling jagged emotions that are about letting go, I’d recommend a beautiful song by Kate Rusby called “Underneath the Stars”.

It is making me feel better able to sit with the unknown. What choice do we have anyway?

Grace is God’s Unmerited Favor

Image

“Grace is God’s unmerited favor.”

I’m going to go ahead and claim that I wrote that sentence, even though it is part of my six month old scribbled notes that I made while on Wikki (of all places). I was working on a tab for this blog which explains why I would pick an often uncute theme: grace.

Wait! Red light! Am I tiptoeing around the stickiest theological debate of all time – for me anyway: Exactly where do toil and grace meet?

Know what I mean (jellybean)?

And…who, how, when and where is grace found? And why…of course we ask over and over, is toil and suffering so often what we associate with the experience of God being in our midst?

Let’s just put that on the chalkboard for now:

“Def.: Grace = God in our midst.”

Image

So, let me explain

Tangent: here’s why I’m bogging down your computer with huge photos:

 

I just want to.

Want to bog mine down anyway. I was lucky enough to have scored a job for a couple of months at the end of the school year and that was a really wonderful experience. My title was “Communication Coach” for a Kindergarten student who is hard of hearing.

If I can get back into a routine to blog more often, I’d love to share more about my experience. It was just what I didn’t know I was praying for.

The huge pictures in this post? Because as soon as I signed my contract, I treated myself to a new printer that has a scanner so that I can try and organize old photos.

So far, what I have is an office and moving boxes that are a jumble of…

a jumble. In a room with stinky carpet.

(insert music or images that lead you to toil and suffer,

if my friend, you are on my side…)

I am still committed to try and not write more than a few hundred words per post, but for now, as I brush away some midlife cobwebs, I need to see these snippets in biggie size. Image

“Oh, you weak, beautiful people who give up on such grace.

What you need is

someone to take hold of you –

gently, with love,

and hand your life back to you.”

 

~ Tennessee Williams

Image

 

Eeyores Advice to the Gloomy: ‘Brains First, and then Hard Work’

I’m not the first one to think this, but let’s pretend, just for the day, that I am the first person to decide that Milne’s World of Pooh is an ode to friendship. I’d like to add though…that it is also all about cherishing quiet, and imagination. Is this not what the world sorely lacks in many of our eyes?

And, the lack of patience in every corner of the kingdom?

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“I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”
― Sylvia Plath (from Good Reads)

A quick read of some pages of The World of Pooh is helping me process how I feel about reconnecting with some of my best friends of my college years. I can’t decide which Milne character would have been who at the time.

Right now, with no question, I am Eeyore and am quite fine with remaining in that role forever more. If you don’t love and appreciate Eeyore…I ask you to turn your head and go play else where. This kind friend is the Abe Lincoln of the kindly woods of Pooh.

I am no Abe. or Molly Lincoln, but I do continue to plod along. With the gift of modern interventions, I am gratefully stocked with a lighter set of brain games and my load has lightened indeed.

The chapter I just reread is titled:

IN WHICH A house Is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore

On this “one day,” Pooh is wandering around as usual looking for someone to hang out with for a bit. Sound like college and young adulthood yet? Yuppers.

So he checked on his fiesty little pal Piglet, “…and the more he looked inside the more Piglet wasn’t there.’ “

Sound like waning connections to old friends because of the busyness of work, family life and “real adulthood?” Yes sirree Bob.

” ‘He’s out,’ said Pooh sadly.”

“That’s what it is. He’s not in.

I shall have to go a fast

Thinking Walk

by myself. Bother!”

whole wrld

My oldest son John, at three against the world.

That’s what two of my college roommates and I miss the most. I don’t even need to text, Facebook, snail mail or tweet to them to inquire: we miss going for walks together to our playground. The pace and stress of college often made no sense to any of the three of us. Nor does the current world of noise and rush make what should be very common sense amidst the buzz that we are plodding through that many years later.

Sadly, the cost of travel and the commodity of time stands in the way of “in real life” connection. Not so sadly, we manage quite well to keep in touch. Never enough, but we try. Not so much in person, yet the genius of the invention of virtual connection provides some fun in between gaps of “real” exchanges of voice and better thought out exchanges such as email or instant messages.

Now: Back to Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore.

In this part of the story, Pooh’s social dilemma increases as he decides to cheer Eeyore with a song and invites Piglet. Piglet is impatient as Pooh drags him through a windstorm to find Eeyore:

‘Pooh,’ he said at last, and a little timidly,

because he didn’t want Pooh to think he was Giving In,

‘I was just wondering.

How would it be if we went home now and

practiced your song,

and then sang it to Eeyore tomorrow -or-or  the next day, when we happen to see him.”

No go. Pooh dragged that poor pig through snow and sleet singing “Tiddley-Pom” the whole way through.

Meanwhile Christopher Robin is trying to talk some sense into Eeyore who won’t leave his “gloomy place” of no cover from the snow storm.

Eeyore justifies to his human friend:

” ‘I don’t know how it is, Christopher Robin,

but with all this snow and one thing and another,

not to mention icicles and such-like,

it isn’t so Hot in my field…In fact Christopher Robin,’

 

he went on in a loud whisper,

 

‘quite-between-ourselves-and-don’t-tell-anybody,

it’s Cold.’

 

‘Oh, Eeyore!’

Now. Here comes that attitude and thought process that I’ve yet to give up, which on one or two occasions, has driven my family to hysterics:

” ‘And I said to myself:

The others will be sorry if I’m getting myself all cold.

They haven’t got Brains, any of them,

only grey fluff

that’s blown into their heads by mistake,

and they don’t

Think.’ “

And on Eeyore discerns and plods about, in a snow storm, thinking about the snow on top of his very back. Meanwhile, not one, not two, but three friends are milling about the woods trying to resolve his gloom by rebuilding his house and trying to lead him to a more comfortable place.

Pope Francis should be proud indeed of the humble scene in which Eeyore returns to the house that he thinks he built:

” ‘ There you are,’ said Piglet.

 

‘Inside as well as outside,’ said Pooh Proudly.

 

‘It’s a remarkable thing,’ he said.

 

‘It is my house, and I built it where I said I did, so the wind must have blown it here.

 

And the wind blew it right over the wood,

and blew it down here,

and here is as good as ever.

 

In fact, better in places.’

 

‘Much better,’ said Pooh and Piglet together.

 

‘It just shows what can be done by taking a little trouble,’ said Eeyore.

 

‘Do you see Pooh? Do you see Piglet?

 

Brains first and then Hard Work.

 

Look at it!

 

That’s the way to build a house,’

 

said Eeyore

proudly.”

I was thankful for my college friends then, but I am more so now. Communication gaps or no, they mean a lot to me.

 

 

Walking in Blossoms=”L”overly

I went for a nice walk when home in Ohio, but brrr! So my fingers had a hard time stretching into "L" formation.

Come one index finger, pull it back...you can do it!

Made up word of the day: Loverly

Definition (adj.): So very beautiful that it’s hard to put into words.

Eg.: When she remembered that she didn’t have a car to go on shopping jaunts, she was actually glad because a walk sounded more relaxing. The guy across the path was taking photos of the apple blossoms and looked at her funny because she was taking photos of her hands. She wondered what he would do if she smiled and said, “Loverly day in the neighborhood, don’t you say?”