Diverted

So the holiday ended.

I energized myself for the return to work.

Bag packed. Masks washed and ready for the week.

My day mapped out in the planner: Lessons to review. Emails to send. Trainings to schedule. Reports to complete and submit. Meetings to attend. Agendas to make…

Quick check on the weather. In a word: Yuck. Raincoat and boots needed for morning bus duty and filling in at carpool arrival afterward.

Lunch packed (Note to self: Go to grocery store ASAP…).

oh yeah, my temperature. I’ve learned I am usually below normal, in the 97.7 range (at the moment 97.8, but I just sipped my coffee. Kids arriving at school in heated cars can register as high as 105…we have a fleet of touchless thermometers that must be left out in the cold for a few minutes to calibrate. We will have to perform several rechecks before verifying a child does NOT have a fever and may enter the building…).

Enter my temperature in the district website and answer the COVID questions for this cheery message: Thank you. You have passed your daily health screening. You may report to your worksite. Remember your 3 W’s: Wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth. Wait six feet apart. Avoid close contact. Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Have a nice day!

Um.

But I am ready to go, with time to set up before the arrival bell rings.

Except.

I forgot I needed gas.

4 miles to E.

That’s okay. See, the gas station is only about a mile up the road here.

I pull in, happy to see no one is at the pumps: I’ll still make it in plenty of time!

There is, of course, a reason:

Every. Single. Pump.

I sit for a moment with rain sheeting across my windshield…

…nothing for it but to go back home and tell my son he has to take me to work.

—He has no gas in his car, either.

But he does have gas in Pa-Pa’s 1989 blue Cadillac DeVille. With the dented-in back door on the driver’s side where the boy cut the turn into the garage too close (it is a LONG car. And that’s one of the few times I’ve seen my young Cadillac Man cry).

There’s more to this story, because the unforeseen complications didn’t stop there; these were but a harbinger for a day full of absurd and unexpected turns. My neat list in the planner … poof. Suffice it to say I texted admin that I’d be late. I made it just as the tardy bell rang.

In an afternoon meeting—online, naturally—the facilitators (battling internet connectivity issues) closed with this message:

I did not throw my laptop of out the window (after all, the laptop nor the window belonged to me…).

I just kept on flowing.

Even when there was no gas.

A reminder that I’m only going so far on my own resources. With my best-laid plans that can disintegrate without warning.

Willing to be led by the process of life…

Even when diverted, to an absurd degree, with plot twists right and left…

And it was sort of beautiful, in its way, arriving at my destination in a vintage Cadillac with a willing and loving driver.

Lead photo: Gas pump. Mike Mozart. CC BY.

My Thanksgiving song

Thanksgiving Day, 1987.

My boyish husband and I have come to eat with my parents. There’s a lot on my mind as I carry dishes from the kitchen to the dining room table. My father’s voice drifts from the adjoining living room, mingling with the Macy’s parade-babble on TV. He’s conversing with my husband, who’s planning to enter the ministry. Beyond the old lace drapes of the picture window where I sat so often as a child, the November day is like a sepia print. Browns of dead grass and leaves, oyster sky, skeletal trees bathed in pale, unassuming sunlight.

Then…another voice.

Singing.

Coming from the television.

I turn to face it, spellbound. I cannot move. I stand stone-still, between portals, as everything else fades away…there’s only that voice. Almost too pure to bear. It wrenches something inside of me, twists and pierces so that tears spring to my eyes… a man singing “God on high, hear my prayer, in my need, you have always been there…”

He sings of protection for a young man in troubled times, afraid, resting nearby. Of summers dying, one by one. He is willing to die for the young man— “he is only a boy”— if God will let him live and “bring him home.”

I stand, tears flowing, aching to the core of my soul, not wanting it to stop, knowing that I am somehow irrevocably changed.

******

The singer was Colm Wilkinson, portraying Jean Valjean from the Broadway musical Les Misérables. The song “Bring Him Home” is a prayer for young Marius, who’s fallen in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette. Valjean watches over the sleeping Marius at a barricade during the June Rebellion, or the 1830 Paris Uprising. Broad view: On top of harsh economic times, crop failures, and food shortages, a cholera epidemic killed over 100,000 across France. The poor, especially in the city of Paris, were devastated; they blamed the government and retaliated.

I learned much later that the song was especially written for Wilkinson’s tenor voice—a profound marriage of artistry. And revision. Lyricist Herbert Kretzmer struggled with the English translation. He completed it seventeen days before the show opened. Upon hearing its first rehearsal, the cast was blown away. One member, playing the Bishop, said:“You told us at the beginning that you couldn’t keep God out of the show. But you didn’t say you’d booked God to sing this song.”

My husband eventually took me to see (to hear?) Les Misérables on Broadway. My awe has never diminished; so many songs are hauntingly beautiful, meant to pull on the soul with deep themes of loss, love, faith, sacrifice, death…and, above all, redemption.

I’ve been thinking of Thanksgiving in the time of COVID, how life and gatherings— and parades—are changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We are not allowed to sing at school, for fear of spreading the virus.

But some things never change. We never really know what is to come in a day, a week, a year…or the next moment.

Like Valjean, I grow older, with my heart turned toward the next generation in prayer for preservation. For their peace and joy. My own boys, now grown… the firstborn followed his father into the pastorate. The youngest is a worship leader. A musician and singer. Yes, how soon the summers fly, on and on…the boys weren’t even born yet on that long-ago Thanksgiving when I stood before the TV screen in my childhood home, transfixed by a cloaked Irish tenor in the streets of New York City, as snow began to fly…

God on high, hear my prayer
In my need, you have always been there

It remains my Thanksgiving song, every day.

Always.

God on high, hear my prayer
In my need, you have always been there
He is young, he’s afraid
Let him rest, heaven-blessed
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son
The summers die, one by one
How soon they fly, on and on
And I am old and will be gone

Bring him peace, bring him joy
He is young, he is only a boy
You can take, you can give
Let him be, let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home

Songwriters: Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schönberg/Herbert Kretzmer

Gratitude blitz

A blitz poem has fifty lines. The first forty-eight are short phrase-bursts, sometimes even clichés. The last word of each even-numbered line is repeated as the first word in the next two lines. The final two lines are the last word of line 48, then the last word of line 47.

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writers to make a gratitude list by “collecting ephemera” —perhaps from photographs, doodles, or notebooks.

This gratitude blitz is a collection of such fragments floating in my heart and mind, like bits of fiery crushed opal floating in glycerin, inside a teardrop-shaped pendant my Grannie once had. Maybe not so ephemeral…

Morning expectancy
Morning light
Light spilling from windows
Light-split rainbow colors
Colors of autumn, falling
Colors of sunrise, calling
Calling of geese, passing
Calling “Love you,” leaving home
Home for the holidays
Home for the summer
Summer tasting of salt and sea
Summer-long cicada song
Song of praise
Song of children

Children laughing
Children begging “Tell me a story”
Story in a book read over and over
Story for the writing
Writing to remember
Writing to celebrate life
Life is short
Life is a gift
Gift of God
Gift of family
Family jokes
Family time
Time for reflection
Time to rest
Rest from labors
Rest in peace
Peace of mind
Peace of heart
Heart revealing
Heart healing
Healing is a compromise
Healing in your beautiful eyes
Eyes gleaming
Eyes streaming
Streaming consciousness
Streaming rivers
Rivers of possibility
Rivers of meaning
Meaning found in each new day
Meaning every word you say
Say it in prayer
Say it in love
Love never forgets to be grateful
Love lives forever

forever
grateful

*******

Grateful for the invitation and the gatherings at SOS—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog and Poetry Friday, where Linda is hosting the Roundup.

The umbrella

—Franna, I need a Frozen umbrella.

—You do?

—My friend had a Little Mermaid one but I want a Frozen one.

—I see. Was this your friend in preschool?

—Yes. Before coronavirus.

—Well. We will have to look for a Frozen umbrella, then. To keep you safe and dry when it rains…

She picked it out. It just so happened to come with a little rain jacket.

The week before torrential rains in this long, long hurricane season, in this long, long year.

When I was about her age, my grandmother gave me a ceramic ornament—two children in yellow rain slickers and galoshes hunkered under a big gray umbrella. If I held the base and twisted the top, it played a tune… I knew the lyrics, and sang…

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I’m free
Nothing’s worrying me

And so the seasons turn, turn, turn, many times over, and here she stands in the autumn of this dreary year, excited for the rain, making her own special brand of magic under a celestial, bright-aqua canopy of love, wonder, and song… I once read that the umbrella is a symbol for power and dignity.

I would say yes, and in this case, absolute joy.

In which I bask.

My heart sings on.

Abide

Autumn. Hallowed season, full of color and oblique light, slanted and golden. Echoes from distant places wafting in chilly air, laced with spice and earthy riches, tasting like promise. Leaves falling like pages of a book turning, ending another chapter, moving to the next…

A time for contemplating life.

And trees.

And what they have to say, about being alive.

I am drawn by research on ways that trees communicate with one another. Their intricate root system (scientists call it the “wood-wide web”), their pheromones, their electrical pulses… so much more is going on than what we humans can see or hear. Trees can warn each other of danger; they can nourish and heal each other.

I stumbled across a book I am going to need, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World, by forester Peter Wohlleben. Journalist Richard Grant writes of Wohlleben’s observations on the topic in “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” (Smithsonian Magazine, March 2018):

Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.

Wohlleben also discovered chlorophyll in a huge beech stump from a tree felled four to five centuries ago—meaning it is still alive. Grant writes: There was only one explanation. The surrounding beeches were keeping it alive, by pumping sugar to it through the network. “When beeches do this, they remind me of elephants,” he [Wohlleben] says. “They are reluctant to abandon their dead, especially when it’s a big, old, revered matriarch.”

I contemplate these words, considering the trees undergoing their autumnal change. Communicating with each other, communal to the end…

For some reason, lines of the old hymn, “Abide with Me,” come to mind: The darkness deepens…change and decay in all around I see…

What might the trees say?

Let us reserve
our resources
pool our energy
by the still waters.
By this reservoir
we drink our fill
after the darkness
we shall be here, still.

They shed their fragile, light-capturing organs because it would require too much energy, would be too costly, to try to keep one’s leaves alive in winter’s dark, icy blasts. They cannot live if they don’t let go.

Is there an inherent message? Resharing from a previous post, “Don’t Should on Yourself”:

Shed your shoulds
like leaves in woods
Trees shorn of fragility
preserve their ability
to survive.

Hear should rustling: ‘Don’t forget’
like leaves curling with regret
Spiraling, sigh by sigh
piling inside, dead and dry
cluttering today.

Beware should’s false measure
robbing Now of its pleasure
Shed those shoulds
like autumn woods
composting for tomorrow.

For me, in the autumn of my own existence, everything is bathed in oblique light, slanted and golden…I walk my wooded path, here and there scattering extensions of myself, posts and poems and words, stopping to gathering those of others, a communal communication that never ceases to amaze and which has everything to do with survival. Perhaps writing stems from a deep-seated need to renew, to live life anew, to make something new and beautiful from the jumbled pattern of our days, while they last.

In the great scheme of things, it’s a collective glory-story.

Can’t you hear each leaf whispering, as it falls:

Abide.

*******

with thanks to the nourishing, beauty-scattering Poetry Friday community and to Robyn Hood Black for hosting today’s Roundup.

Trebek tribute

I love writing to photos. I often do so here on Lit Bits and Pieces (some of my recent favorites: Old Red Barn, Dancing Ghosts, and from earlier this week, High In the Sunlit Silence). Today’s prompt on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog is writing to a photo, taking special note of the background.

Ordinarily I’d comb through my nature photos for a chance to let the background reveal its secrets, capturing impressions in light of what they seem to be saying to me… but this week a person looms large in the foreground of my mind and so I write to these images instead, out of gratitude, remembrance, and mourning…

-Alex Trebek from the retro run of Jeopardy! when taping ceased this summer due to COVID-19. Alex became the new host the year before my husband and I were married. As young newlyweds, my husband and I competed against each other, keeping tally mark scores (which were occasionally disputed…). Our children, from babyhood onward, knew Alex Trebek. As a toddler, our oldest pronounced the surname “Tra-jeck.” He’d announce along with Johnny Gilbert: “And here’s the star of our show, Aaaa-lex Tra-jeck!” Alex eventually asked to be introduced as the host; he said the show belonged to the contestants, for they are the stars.

As time passed, our oldest accrued his own set of tally marks and eventually wiped the floor with his dad and me. We were hardly competition for him. He took the Jeopardy! test a few years ago and didn’t become a contestant; we urged him to keep trying… these days, his brother, eight years younger, who looked at the rest of us with a sort of reticent fascination and maybe concern over our addiction to Jeopardy! through the years, regularly whips his parents.

And so, across four decades, Jeopardy! marked family time. It marked learning. With it we watched our children come into their own. It marked our personal friendly, sometimes fierce, but always fun, competition, all presided over by Alex like a modern-day oracle, a witty human version of Apollo or Odin, the holder of knowledge, wisdom, mysteries, trivia…

We grieved when Alex shared the news of his pancreatic cancer last year. We marveled at his spirit, his courage.

I’ve watched several interviews since his death last Sunday. These lines stay with me:

How do I want to be remembered? As a nice guy… I never went out of my way to malign anyone…

While looking at this photo of young Alex I can’t help noting the red and blue background in the context of 2020, hearing his voice echo: I never went out of my way to malign anyone…

We still have so much to learn.

Speaking of voting…

Silver fox: Another shot from the retro summer run. In 2018, Alex let viewers vote on social media for him to keep or not to keep his beard. Results were never exactly determined, as apparently Alex’s wife said let it go. That was enough for him.

In September our youngest gave his dad Alex’s autobiography as a birthday gift. At the outset, Alex says he’s not a writer, that he isn’t comfortable writing about himself.

But he did it, for us to know “Alex Trebek, human being” a little better.

This self-avowed “non-writer” writes:

I’ll be perfectly content if that’s how my story ends: sitting on the swing with the woman I love, my soul mate, and our two wonderful children nearby. I’ll sit there for a while and then maybe the four of us will go for a walk, each day trying to walk a little farther than the last. We’ll take things a step at a time, one day at a time. In fact, I think I’ll go sit in the swing for a bit right now.

The weather is beautiful—the sun is shining into a mild, mild looking sky, and there’s not a cloud in sight.

His family was with him when he passed.

Mine mourns. On receiving the news, our four-year-old granddaughter wept. “Who will be the host now?”

Just one more answer
Elucidating, eloquent, as an era ends.
Our minds can hardly contain the vast
Potpourri of knowledge showcased.
Alex, your legacy to generations
Remains like the ultimate
Daily Double—
You enriched our lives, exponentially.

He is a permanent figure, there in the background of the story of our lives.

Final words—the back dust jacket of Alex’s book.

If you want to write in community, SOS: Magic in a Blog invites you to share your heart.

High in the sunlit silence

On an afternoon walk with my son, I see it.

A little plane, sailing serenely past the clouds, fuselage glowing gold in the waning sunlight.

My first thought: I can’t hear it. And it can’t hear me.

Then: How peaceful it must be to transcend Earth’s noise and strife...

Reminds me of a favorite poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Pilot Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, wrote the verse in the summer of 1941. He would die in a plane collision four months later. He was nineteen.

High in the sunlit silence…with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod/The high untrespassed sanctity of space… that is exactly the sense I get while watching this little aircraft. A taste of sun-split cloud, a breath of whipping wind in the delirious blue, the holy hush…

But the plane vanishes, almost like a mirage. I am left standing here on the ground.

My son and I walk on, although we feel a little lighter for having seen it.

*******

The poem High Flight has been memorized through the years by cadets at the United States Air Force Academy; its lines adorn many headstones at Arlington. In my house it graces a plaque beside my father’s photo. Daddy joined the USAF at nineteen. Although he wasn’t a pilot or career serviceman, he always loved planes and is buried in a veterans cemetery by a military base where the jets go screaming over every day.

He chose the spot for this reason.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day; I am grateful for those who serve my country.

I can’t help noting that there is nothing new under the sun: this observance first began with Armistice Day in 1918…in the throes of a pandemic.

And that healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words.

High in the sunlit silence…with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod/The high untrespassed sanctity of space… even if that space is within my own mind, a sanctuary without parameters, where my spirit is free to keep reaching far beyond Earth, believing.

The sound of gratitude

playing with a variation of pantoum, on gratitude found in favorite sounds

When I listen, I can hear
the sound of gratitude

in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging
and crystal tones of children, singing

The sound of gratitude—
in the distance, church bells ringing
and crystal tones of children, singing
then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver

In the distance, church bells ringing
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver
one last “I love you” before retiring

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
—when I listen, I can hear
one last “I love you” before retiring
in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging.

*******

Cicadas are ancient symbols of renewal, rebirth, transformation, change, resurrection, immortality, spiritual realization. Socrates linked the cicada song with divine inspiration in religion, poetry, art, and love.

Thanks to Ruth at SOS: Magic in a Blog for the sounds of gratitude inspiration & to Susan Bruck for hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Soul Blossom Living.

Photo: Listen. Artists Rick & Brenda Beerhorst. CC BY

Spiritual journey: Grateful for belief

For Spiritual Journey Thursday, on the theme of gratitude.

I am grateful for a new morning. I am grateful to be writing about spiritual journeys on the first Thursday of the month, and for my fellow sojourners. As I write, silver-white stars are still glittering in the black sky. My kitchen bay window faces east where the sun is soon to rise. When it does, I will stop to drink in its glory.

I am grateful for books, for having developed a love of reading so early in life that I can’t remember learning how. I am grateful for libraries, for row upon row of treasures waiting to be discovered, for being ten years old and stooping to examine a curious title, for removing a book, opening the cover, and finding myself in another world.

Narnia, to be exact. That book was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It would send me scrambling for the rest of the books in the series, always longing for more. I was given a boxed set for my twelfth birthday and the tattered copies remain on my bookshelf to this day.

When it comes to spiritual journeys, no character in Narnia with the exception of Aslan (the Talking Lion, “King of Beasts, the son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia”) outshines Reepicheep, leader of the Talking Mice. Reepicheep, who stands about two feet tall, is young King Caspian’s most loyal knight, quite fierce in battle with his small rapier. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep sails with his king to explore unmapped lands. He does not intend to return home to Narnia; instead, he means to sail to the end of the world, on to Aslan’s country.

No one knows if Aslan’s country can be reached this way. When Lucy (a human child from our world, if you did not already know) asks “Do you think Aslan’s would be that sort of country you could ever sail to,” Reepicheep says he does not know, but that when he was a baby a Dryad (spirit of a tree) sang to him in his cradle about finding his heart’s desire where “sky and water meet, where the waves grow sweet… there is utter East.”

In the movie, however, Reepicheep answers: “We have nothing if not belief.”

When the Dawn Treader can sail no farther, as it’s reached the shallows of lily-clogged, sweet waters where the sea and sky meet, Reepicheep makes his goodbyes. A tiny wooden boat is lowered from the ship and he sails on, alone, over the rim of the world.

No one ever sees him again.

At least, not in that world.

Aslan’s country is another matter…

I glance through my bay window facing east and see that the sky has changed. The upper canopy is now indigo, melting into turquoise, into lighter aqua nearer the horizon where the faintest yellow glows above a pale rosy blush… I cannot see the sun, but I know it is there… it is coming…as it always does.

I am grateful for a new morning. I am grateful for the coffee in my Reepicheep mug, for the eastern sky reminding me to rise above the things of this tainted world… as poet Robert Browning wrote: Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

I am grateful for the journey.

*******

with thanks to C.S. Lewis and my fellow Spiritual Journey voyagers, especially Ruth who’s hosting today from Haiti. Visit her site, There’s No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town, for more on gratitude.

Also grateful for taking the plunge into creating this blog. A wonderful personal adventure it’s been, writing, discovering, remembering, and interacting with new friends all along the way. This is my 400th post.