Poem: Man of the Upper Room

In this week before Easter, I have spent time again reading the accounts of Jesus’ last few days on earth. The Gospels report the events, but I am always drawn to the people that must have been so affected by those events.

Here are my thoughts on one of them, the host (restauranteur?) who provided that last supper for Jesus and the disciples.   (For extra background, read Mark 14:12-15 or Luke 22:7-13.

Jesus remembered the Passover, eating that Seder dinner with his disciples in the tradition that would have been done by Jews in Jerusalem for centuries. But He also knew His own death was coming. Along with other Christians, I see powerful symbolism in His death – a new sacrifice for a new kind of Passover. I’ve hoped to hint at that with this poem.

Man of the Upper Room

 Of course you can use this room, I said to
those friends of His, riding high on
celebrity, renown.

And yes, I’ll keep it a secret
promising to keep away onlookers, the flocking crowds
who wanted to gawk
see scales fall from eyes
watch magic food multiply inside baskets.

Yes, I’ll have extra basins of water for your feet
Though I hardly thought they’d need it
walking as they did that week on green palm leaves
fame growing, applause ringing
smiles ubiquitous.

There will be enough lamb for the dinner, I assured
and spent the day slaughtering.
Blood of goats and sheep
flowed into the mud just outside the door.

All is ready, I told them.
But I was not ready

He washed my feet
made me eat with them.
Kindly, He said my lamb did not
particularly matter.
And, there was to be more
blood, His blood.

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Road Trip Report (#2)

Most of us fall comfortably into routines. We like drinking our morning coffee in the same chair, or having a particular salad dressing for our lettuce, or stacking the plates in a specific direction when loading our dishwashers.   Some more than others of us are prone to repeating these routines; we like things done in a particular way. And pretty soon, we get “set in our ways. ” The danger of this is that we insist on our preferences to the point where we become  rigid, unbendable, unlikable. But travel works against these tendencies.

Travel makes us ask what’s important. When we’re out of our routines and away from the places where we have control over the details of life, we are forced to be flexible, to care less about trivialities and more about what really matters. No, the hotel coffee isn’t as good as our own. The rental cabin’s kitchen is lacking a good knife. The heater is hard to regulate, so we are alternately hot, then cold at night.

But really, how much do those things matter? In Jackson, Wyoming, our hotel wasn’t fancy, but we were right across from acres and acres of a wildlife refuge for elk. We watched herds graze. There were moose!

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The mountains across the valley turned purple at dusk. And in the morning we drove just seven miles into Grand Teton National Park to watch the sun rise on the mountains, turning the white snow on the peaks into silver.

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Things go wrong; how will we react? Not all travel experiences are beautiful. We had a flat tire. This forced us to spend a morning at a tire shop in Lincoln, Nebraska getting four new tires.

I had altitude sickness. I did not want to be sick, but I was. How rude of me to decline a lovely meal that our friends in Colorado prepared for us; how sad to miss such great conversation over the meal while I slept off my nausea.

After driving for hours through desolate landscape, we were more than ready to stop for the day in Casper, Wyoming. However, at the first place we stopped, we learned there were no hotel rooms left in town. ( An Elton John concert. We had not thought to plan for this. Really? It was a weekday in the middle of March.)

But the problems? We got through them. We waited for our car to be fixed and we drank coffee, together. I adjusted to the altitude and we had fun strolling through the streets of Salida the next day. And together, we left Casper behind us and got through another long, difficult 100 miles of Wyoming before finding a hotel.

Like every other disagreeable event in life, problems test a relationship. Will we choose cheer over anger? Will we turn away from blame? Will we be kind to the other in adversity and walk through to the other side of this problem together? If we (or you) can answer  yes  both in travel and in marriage, these are the ways to survive, to flourish, to love.

Decisions, decisions. Meals, lodging, activities: multiple options confront at every turn. This hotel or that one? What do you feel like eating? Which café?  Should we turn off here? Drive that far,  see this site? Are you up for the sunset? Is this a good spot for a picnic?  Again, the way we handle all these little travel decisions is a metaphor for the way to handle life together.

Here’s what we’ve learned after years of practice: we voice our preferences, and then we gauge the degree to which these things matter to the other. Sometimes he or I feels strongly. If it matters to him, we do what he wants; if it matters to me, we do what I want. ( If it matters to neither of us, well, we plunge in and take our chances….)

The southern entrances to Yellowstone National Park were closed, still buried under the winters’ snows. Dave had it in his mind to drive the 32 miles to where the road was closed- to get as close as possible to the park. I thought the plan was foolish, but it was important to him, and really, why not? To get to a sign that said ROAD CLOSED,

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we drove through gorgeous forests on empty roads with lovely mountain views.

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Sometimes I like to wander into book stores or galleries in little towns. Not interested, Dave waits outside, preferably in the sun.

Like all good friendships, honesty matters. And so does a little bit of sacrifice.

So as I report on our trip, it seems I have also reported on marriage. I’m glad I’m taking trips with my husband, David. Travel makes it clear that who we travel with, whether on road trip or in life is a pretty big deal.

 

Road Trip, Part One

My husband and I returned last night from a little road trip. Well, not a little road trip. In fact, we drove 4,900 miles.

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Please wait a while before asking me to get back in my car.

Now that I’m back, I am doing some reflecting. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” so I’m spending some time thinking about what I’ve just experienced. Writing about it helps in that process.

Here are a few observations:

Getting away can be helpful. We were starting to be too preoccupied with a few of our problems. The grey and gloom of winter, combined with a few months of some medical s**t had made us start to see things in a negative light. Getting away changed our focus. We thought about people other than ourselves. We saw blue sky and felt warm temperature, and we remembered that we’d someday have those again. We saw spectacularly beautiful sights – beauty is always solace and grace for a soul.

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We saw some rather plain sights, too, which made us remember that where we live is pretty wonderful.

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It would have been lonely to just sightsee.  We loved that we had some days to ourselves to explore, but spending a few nights with people  was pretty great, too. There’s something good about being on the receiving end, not being in charge, learning to be flexible. We had good conversation, comfortable beds, nice tours of local sites. And we connected differently with the people that we stayed with because we were on their turf instead of ours. Friends, family? These relationships are great gifts worth nurturing, cultivating, holding on to. I love to travel to sightsee, but I’m glad we could spend time with good people, too.

There were pleasant surprises when we slowed down. It’s easy to be destination-focused when you look at a map and just want to get to point B from point A.   On our third day we weren’t in a huge hurry, so when we started seeing flocks of hundreds of birds overhead, we realized we might be somewhere important  (in the bird world) and in the middle of something good. So we stopped, chatted with locals, and learned we were witnessing the great Sand Hill Crane Migration. We made a phone call to the local Audubon center to find out just where we could drive for a good view of the nearly 140,000 birds that were in the area that day. 80% of the world’s Sand Hill Cranes (about 650,000 birds) will migrate through the Nebraska flyway this spring. And we were there to see part of the aggregation.  If you are a regular reader, you might know that I am enchanted by cranes, as we have a pair that hangs out in the land behind our house.  So to watch cranes  ( and snow geese) congregate was pretty wonderful.  Yes, we made horrible driving distance that day, but taking that little sidetrip was one of our highlights. Watch 18 seconds here

One other example: thankfully we were driving slowly on a road without traffic when this guy flew down from a nearby tree. We were able to stop and watch him, long enough to take this picture.

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 We didn’t need half the stuff we brought. It’s always hard to know what to bring. We knew we’d need stuff for a variety of activities and a variety of temperatures. But truly, we overpacked. Did I really need six pairs of shoes? ( uhh… no.) Dave pretty much wore the same three sets of clothes the entire time. There are washers and dryers in people’s houses, in hotels. We brought about 30 lbs of dogfood, but our dog was adjusting to new places every night or two so he didn’t feel like eating. ( As if we’d forgotten there are grocery stores?) We spent more time re-arranging the excess items in our car than actually using them.

And here’s a revelation: we lived just fine for three weeks with half of the items that fit in about three suitcases and a few extra containers and bags in our car. So why , really, do we need all the stuff that we own?

I’ll stop here but add more  in the next few days, as there is too much for one post. I’ll write about our national parks, because they are wonderful. And another post, perhaps, about traveling companions, as in my husband, who is great. And maybe another about spending time with one’s grown children. Until then, here are a few pictures from our trip.

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Ice

There are about three thousand reasons to love this beautiful place where we live,  but we’ve spent a lot of this winter complaining about the one thing we DON’T love: ice on the streets and sidewalks.   When day after day the temperature climbed above freezing only to drop again each night, we had continuous ice  from the thaws and refreezing. We have both taken bad falls in our lives, so we are babies when it comes to walking cautiously, fearfully.  But when I haven’t been afraid of slipping, falling, I have had to admit that this nemesis of ours can be incredibly beautiful.

Here are some of my favorite photos of ice that I’ve accumulated this winter. ( And by the way, NONE of these have filters.  The colors really are true.)

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The frozen water that gathers at the shore line changes constantly. One week there are thousands of broken crystals in shattered pieces, another week there are piles built up, added to by continual waves.

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And up close, the beauty of ice!

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And just yesterday, more snow, then ice, then more snow. But we were left with gorgeous scenes; gleaming trees, shining branches.

 

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I won’t miss the ice under my feet when it is finally spring in way-too-many  months. But I am glad for the beauty of it, and for the eyes to see it.

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Very Important People

It’s impossible to spend a week in Washington D.C. without thinking about important people.

In so many of the famous (and beautiful) buildings, there are statues and paintings that pay homage to the historical figures that formed this country. There are monuments to some of the best ones.

As I toured the capitol building and paused outside the White House, there was a sense of gravity knowing that the people inside those places were taking actions that could affect the way all of us live. As I walked the streets, I saw motorcades, police escorts, and secret service agents.

But my week was spent with some people that were important in unexpected ways, too.

I spent time with a friend who for a short time many years ago became part of our family while she was in law school. Now she lives and works in D.C. As a young woman she was tragically widowed, yet she is generous, kind, hardworking, and caring. She has a wonderful laugh that I heard often in our time together as we talked far into the nights. I admire her resiliency, her refusal to be bitter. Living life forward instead of looking backward? That’s important.

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I traveled with friends, fellow volunteers who are dreaming of expanding our little writing center here in Door County. So we left our regular commitments, paid our own way to attend seminars to learn from others, and took turns manning a booth.screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-9-57-25-am   We spread out during the day, talked over dinner at night. These are people who want to make our corner of the world better. We want to help kids and adults tell their stories because we know the stories of ordinary people are not ordinary; each is valuable, important.

I spent four days attending an AWP conference where 12,000 writers, publishers, and teachers gathered to discuss and learn, speak and listen. As you might imagine, these artsy, academic types were worried about our new administration. But with articulate and beautiful words, the message of those days was that truth is what this nation needs.   Words and art and beauty can save us and heal us; reading and writing and thinking are the tools to build back up what hatred and fear and anger tear down. Literature shows us ourselves and teaches us empathy for those who are different. So those 12,000 people who go back to their classrooms to talk about literature or back to their manuscripts to write with beauty and truth? They seemed pretty important.

On the way to the city, I sat next to a congressman on the plane. He needed to buckle his seat belt just like I did; he did not seem extraordinary. I appreciate his willingness to talk policy with me, and sadly, he gave me pat and practiced answers and seemed stuck in his party’s line. So I didn’t change his mind on any issue upon which we disagreed (which was just about every issue we discussed.)  His “important” position did not dazzle me.

Instead, the people that impressed me were the ordinary people who have decided to raise their voices, to do good with their “little” lives.  One of the week’s highlights was listening to a speech by Azar Nafisi. An “ordinary” professor in Iran several years ago when tyranny came to power, she disobeyed their decrees. When her gov’t banned education for women; she taught anyway, at great risk to her life. In her key note speech, she inspired us to do what is right when the world around us does wrong. See a clip of an interview with her at AWP here.

Yes, the people in Washington D.C. have power, but so do we.   The people who give their time and their money to volunteer, the people who rise up from tragedy and refuse to be bitter, the dads and moms that teach their kids to be kind, the churches that welcome in strangers, the teachers that make sure our kids are reading, the artists that build our culture by giving us beauty: these people are also important.  

We cannot think that our voices and actions are insignificant.  Complacency and silence will ruin us. Our lives, too, are important. Every bit as important as the ones in Washington, D.C.

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Read.

I’ve been trying to keep my blog posts a-political. This might explain why I haven’t been posting much recently. ( You know the old adage? If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.)

But I will say that I’m heartbroken by the direction our new administration is taking on human rights, on health care, on immigration, on the environment, on education, on the arts, on free speech.   If you are like me and you don’t like these new policies, please speak up. Call your elected officials. Give money to organizations that will work against the damages of these new policies. March. Protest. Pray. And read a book or two.

Yes, read.

Solace has come for me recently in the rich discussions that have centered around books. For the past four weeks, I’ve taken a class at The Clearing

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with 25 bright, intelligent, interesting women to dissect and discuss four books written by African American women. ( Dessa Rose, Brown Girl, Brownstones, The Bluest Eye, The Women of Brewster Place.)

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Each book took us into the lives of characters weighed down by racism, poverty, and oppression. The circumstances are grim; some characters survive and some do not. We feel heartbreak at their suffering, and the irony of this is not lost on any of us: there are no African Americans sitting among us. Door County is a place of mostly white skin where many of us can go days without seeing a person of color. Yet, every person in this class wanted to understand, wanted to learn, wanted to know how to address the needs of those in our country who have been hurt  because they are black.

We came to know the characters of these books.  We could see how we are different, and more importantly, how we are the same. We examined the issues of race, of white privilege, and we learned about the mistakes we ourselves have made. We listened to those among us who have taken action: one woman was a social worker in urban housing projects, another a principal in urban schools. On a neighborhood housing board, one woman forced banks to abandon their practices of redlining. Another adopted black sons.

So although we were heartbroken each week with the stories we read, we were also heart-healed by the knowledge that there are ways to bring about change. This all happened because we discussed books.

Better yet, just a few evenings ago, I was invited to a “book exchange.” We were encouraged to bring up to five books to exchange for that same number to take home. We drank a few glasses of wine, ate some good food, and then were asked (one-by-one around a circle) to share a title of a book that had affected us in our lives and a book that we have read recently that we liked.  (The hostess has subsequently compiled the list  WHICH I AM NOW Attaching 2017-book-swap-1 and emailed this list of everyone.  What a gift, right?)

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And in that room of readers, a picture slowly emerged of thoughtful women who want a world that is a good and kind place for their children. Thinking is important to them. Love is important to them. Treating others with respect is important. The beauty of words and the beauty of places and the beauty of people are valuable and worth fighting for.

I was reminded once again what research has told us for years: people who read are more empathetic than those who do not. All the qualities that it takes to be our best selves? We can learn these things when we read: bravery, long-suffering, friendship, courage, sacrifice, perseverance, love.*

In a country that with each passing day seems less kind, the time that I have spent with readers this week has given me hope.

Reading will not save us.

But it can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*And on the flip side,  a society that does not read degenerates into people that are not good and not kind; they choose ease,  mindless entertainment,  and selfish pleasure over thought. They are  easily manipulated and swayed.   ( Think Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984.)

 

So COLD

It hurts to go outside these past few days. The temperature is below zero, and the windchills  are in the -15 to -25 range. We linger long over our coffee in the morning, not eager to leave our warm spots. We open the door and beg our dog to go outside and “do his business” without the usual escort he seems to prefer. We think about canceling anything that requires us to go outside: our walks or errands or appointments. We have plenty to do inside, so at the very least, we’ve been combining errands into as few trips outside as possible.

But when we have left the house, we’ve seen some pretty beautiful sights. I’ve been a bit lax about taking pictures, but here are a few of my favorites from the winter so far.

This was a sunrise at the beach a few weeks ago, before the ice had come in.

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But now,  with the extreme cold of the past week, the bays and harbors are closing in. Ice is gathering: in clumps, in chunks, in rows and crystals along the shores.

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This was yesterday’s scene in the harbor.

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And here’s today’s sunset, just a few hours ago.  The sun is actually setting AFTER 4:00, and not BEFORE it.

We are heading towards lighter, less-dark days…

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