street stories: one

Whenever we're in the city, I make sure to try to find an excuse to stop by Powell's.  Powell's is magnificent,  an independent bookstore covering an entire city block, and a popular destination.  Naturally, since the store is in the heart of downtown, there are pan handlers on every corner, so I also try to make sure I'm carrying cash in small bills when I go.*  Over time, I've come to learn a few of the regulars - like Jennie**, who is usually on the west corner between Anthropologie and Sur la Table.  She has meth scars and a sign that says she just needs a few more dollars for a hostel.  When I talk with her, her voice is high and soft and she bows her head a lot and says thank you repeatedly.  Today Oden was in her spot. His mouth was visibly swollen - an abscessed tooth - and he spoke so quietly I had to lean in close.  He was trying to hold out till tomorrow when the clinic will open, but the pain was pretty bad and he thought he might have to go to the emergency room tonight.  When I asked, he said his parents liked Norse mythology and they named him for a god.  We talked about Loki, the trickster, and he said oh no, he could never be like that.  

"You're not a trouble maker, huh?"  I asked with a smile.  And he told me about the well-dressed man who had come by on April Fool's Day and offered a $50 bill to his friend then pulled it away when the man reached for it.  I tried not to think about the space between the hope of $50 and the realization you've just been humiliated, tried not to imagine the well-dressed man later at some bar, telling that story to a chorus of laughs.   

"That guy sleeps in a doorway, man.  Why would you do that to someone?  We're just people, man.  My friend, he took it hard."  

I looked him in the eye and we grieved together.   His face was gentle.  He must have been handsome once.  I wondered about the parents who named him after a god, if they knew he was here, if they mourned the kind boy he had been.

 "Well, thank you, ma'am" he said, and he bobbed his head a few times, put his hand over his swollen cheek and backed away.   Jennie came then, took the sign from his hand, and took her turn on the corner.  They were clearly together.  Wherever people are they find a way to community, I thought.  

I hope they are kind to each other, they deserve that.  

 

* No comments about how it's best not to give money to panhandlers, please.  I agonized over that decision for a long time until I finally realized that the few dollars I give to someone is irrelevant.  What those dollars do is buy me a few moments to talk with someone, to ask their name, to give them mine, to look them in the eye and make them feel like a human for 2 or 3 minutes.  I heard a priest say a while back, a beautiful African man from Tanzania:  "You better give a dollar to EVERYONE who asks of you, because that is JESUS asking.  EVERY TIME."   So I do.

**Names changed.

i want to live among the yes.

Something stirring underneath, about acceptance, and goodness, and hope, and YES.  I can't put my finger on it yet, so I'm just going to sit here and try to start working it out in poetry.  xo ~tonia

tulipsonblack

I want to live among

the yes,

walk head held high where the bud

breaks the branch

and the bulb parts

the ground,

where the hollowed out apple tree puts forth

one more twist of pink

and white

and the bee 

ambles forward to

accept the invitation.

 

I want to live among the yes

of the leaf that

goes to death

dancing,

and the yes of the earthworms

who reach

and

stretch and

find

one another across the path, 

soft and pale,

their plentied hearts pulsing,

meeting,

probing,

unheeding

of the birds who wait

above

who leap open-armed

into nothingness. 

 

crossed

 

I spent last week visiting my children down south.  We stayed in my daughter’s apartment, a cute little space edged along a busy highway.  After awhile, you could close your eyes and imagine the ocean in the constant hum of tires on asphalt, a trick I remembered from our years in the city.  My daughter has created her own space, but I got to see the outlines of twenty years of my mothering traced into her rhythms: the tea cupboard with its tins and boxes, books in the kitchen, flowers on the table, the little note cards that said: Monday – meal planning and laundry; Tuesday - kitchen.  We got up every day and walked to the little coffee shop downtown, staked a claim on a corner table, ordered vegan lunches and hemp lattes.  There were newspapers on all the tables: the governor has disgraced himself, the dry winter means less bird habitat, hate is waging war under the cloak of religion.  I had been reading a book on the Korean War; the politicians and generals had hidden agendas bolstered by extraordinary ego and the young men had orders, but no winter uniforms and no idea what was waiting for them.  How many more times, I wondered, will the egos and agendas be able to use that move?  A thousand, thousand more times, the newspaper said flatly. 

I remembered a poet who said when the Pentagon talked of war, he crossed his fork and spoon and bowed his head across his plate – “to ward off complicity.”   Somewhere across the world, he imagined, there were other citizens bowing, all of them making vows “never to kill and call it fate.”

Who teaches people to do this, I wondered.  Certainly not the church I knew.  My church had always called that cowardice, foolishness.  I cannot think of this without an ache in my chest.  

One of my sons had told me suddenly a few days before that he wants to be a Quaker.  “Because they practice peace,” he said quietly when I asked him why.  Another son, one whom I raised but barely understand, said if he had a gun he’d go over there and kill them all, those sons of b*****s.  I sat at the table for a long time after that, heavy with the knowledge of which one of them will find approval.  

Those days, when we walked home from the coffee shop, the sky was bright blue.  Every so often, a military jet would bust through the clouds above us.  You felt it in your chest first, then you looked up and saw the dark triangle moving away from you fast, so fast.  I followed their trails through the sky and wondered if they knew where they were headed, wondered what hidden agenda we were all playing along to this time, wondered if anyone else recognized the sound of the same old rhythms the world’s been practicing since the beginning.  I thought again of the poet, dead now, his words speaking to me across the years, warning me of complicity, his message so much slower than the potential that just streaked across the sky.  I crossed my chest with my arms, felt my own vow steady and alive within me. Back at the apartment we pushed open the windows to let in air.  Outside the constant hum of traffic rose and fell like ocean waves.

making a claim

 

You know that feeling when you suddenly encounter something that feels like home?  I've been feeling that way as I read through Esther de Waal's book on Celtic Christianity.  The Celts, she says, were a people "living close to the earth, close to stone and water, and their religious worship was shaped by their awareness of these elemental forces....They were a warrior people, a people whose myths and legends told them of heroes and heroic exploits.   Above all, they were a people of the imagination, whose...skill with words flowered in poetry and storytelling."  Is it okay, I wonder, to lay claim to people who are probably not your ancestors, but are certainly your spiritual kin?  I am in love with the way their lives were a continual song of prayer, from morning through the night.  They had prayers for everything from stoking the fire to milking the cow to making the bed to sailing their boats.  Wonderful.  

"Bless, O God, my little cow,

Bless, O God, my desire;

Bless Thou my partnership

And the milking of my hands, O God.

Bless, O God, each teat, 

Bless, O God, each finger;

Bless Thou each drop

That goes into my pitcher, O God."

It's been a wonderful read, and it's excited my faith in a way few things have over the last months.  

The last two weeks at home have been so restful.  I find my thoughts turning more to prayer throughout the day, instead of turning to the old quick fix of the click and escape.  Standing at the kitchen counter one day last week, I found myself suddenly realizing that this whole thing might be part of God's plan and not so much my own idea.  Today's reading hit me:

"Prayer was not separate from poetry and from song.  These were people who were singing all the time, from the start of the day until its end.   Prayers were keened or crooned or sung under the breath - they were not said silently.  This would have an incalculable effect on children, who from the start of their lives must have been aware of parents praying, would watch and hear prayer as a natural part of every day life....When Carmichael tells us, almost in passing, that this ended as people became more talkative, he is saying something the significance of which we should not miss."

Do you feel, as I do, that something important is being lost in our world?  I'm just listening, still exploring.  These are the little snippets that come to me day by day.

much love to you.

tonia

 

 

the majesty of liturgical action

"The offering of the body in prayer is at the heart of life and includes everything in our daily life, so that it radiates out into the world we live in, giving the majesty of liturgical action to our work and leisure, our eating and sleeping and speaking and moving; giving to our simplest act the redeeming power of the offering of Christ's Body, and making it both sacrifice to God and communion with humanity.

We shall carry this idea into the world, into the kitchen and the office, making life a liturgy, so that through it those prayers that Christ wishes to be made unceasingly will be made, regardless of our mood, and in tranquility."

~ Caryll Houselander, A Child In Winter