Awaiting His Arrival: From Silence to Time Suspended

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 Immediately his (Zechariah’s) mouth was opened and his tongue set free,
and he began to speak, praising God:
because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

~Luke 1: 64, 78-79

 

Upon the darkish, thin, half-broken ice
There seemed to lie a barrel-sized, heart-shaped snowball,
Frozen hard, its white
identical with the untrodden white
of the lake shore. Closer, its somber face—
Mask and beak—came clear, the neck’s
Long cylinder, and the splayed feet, balanced,
Weary, immobile. Black water traced, behind it,
An abandoned gesture. Soft in still air, snowflakes
Fell and fell. Silence
Deepened, deepened. The short day
Suspended itself, endless.
~Denise Levertov “Swan in Falling Snow”

And we are silenced too by our questioning the motives of God, by trying to be God ourselves, and so sit suspended, immobile, in the darkening quiet, waiting, waiting.
We are met by the tender mercy of His light illuminating our deepening, raised to the eternal, suspended, forgiven endlessly.

 

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Twenty Nine Halloweens

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On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress,  grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I don’t recall looking back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months before to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. I was leaving the city for a new rural home and an uncertain professional future.

I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family was on its way, and we were going to live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with five acres and a barn. A real (sort of) farm. Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two little sister tortoise shell calico kittens peering up at me,  just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that simple commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed very complete.

I will never forget the freedom I felt on that drive north. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting: the ideal family practice with a delightfully diverse patient population of African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all with me into the Mazda, I would have.

We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding a dog Tango, then a Haflinger horse Greta, then Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. Again, new commitments and life felt complete– but not for long, as we soon added another baby, Ben and then another, Lea. Then it really was complete. Or so I thought.

Twenty nine years later our children have long ago grown and gone, off to their own adventures beyond the farm.  Our sons each married in the last year, our daughter becoming more independent as she finishes her college career in another year, each child to a different big city spread out in three different time zones from us. A few cats, two corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. Our second larger farm seems more than we can realistically manage by ourselves in our spare time. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fits me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day.

My husband is talking retirement in a little over three years. I’m not so sure for myself. I have never not worked and don’t know how I can stop when the need in health care is greater than ever.

The freedom I felt that rainy Halloween day three decades ago, watching Seattle disappear in the rear view mirror,  meant I no longer sat captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams for an hour, but now commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano at church and serving on various community boards. I love how our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn,  coyotes howling at night, Canadian geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet me in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids me good night.

It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin beside me in a little Mazda and a husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, twenty nine years and three grown children later,  I celebrate my Halloween transition anniversary once more.  We find ourselves on our own yet again, still pregnant with possibility for our future together.

 

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Twilight Mirrors

swantokyo4Swan photos taken in late afternoon light in a moat in downtown Tokyo, Japan, with reflection of the surrounding highrise buildings coloring the water

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Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things…
At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.
~Robinson Jeffers from “Love the Wild Swan”
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But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Years from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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The Stretching Light

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Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Swan”

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”

A Doleful Hymn

Photo taken today across the road from our farm- feeding swans amid the cornfield stubble
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.
~William Butler Yeats from “The Wild Swans at Coole”

I was working outside before the sun was up this rainy morning, preparing the horse barn for our vet arriving to perform an on-the-farm surgery on one of our Haflinger horses.  As I prepared the shavings bedding, feeling anxious about the procedure to take place, I heard sounds overhead that come only a few days a year: the swishing hush of wings in flight and the trumpeter swan “doleful hymn” called out as dozens passed above me in a long meandering line against the early dawn greyness.

The swan flocks predictably arrive in early November to eat their fill, feasting in the harvested cornfields surrounding our farm, their bright white plumage a stark contrast to the dulling muddy soil.  And too soon they lift their long graceful necks and fan out their wings to be picked up the wind, leaving us behind and beneath, moving south, heading year after year for their wintering home.

These incredible creatures bring such joy with their annual arrival and brief stay, their leave-taking  a harbinger for this dying time of year, reminding me once again nothing on earth can last.

“‘Tis strange that death should sing…” but in fact,  ’tis strange that death should fly in and out on silken wings.

I give myself over to their beauty, and walk with lighter tread, singing a new song.

I am grateful my sore heart still soars.

‘Tis strange that death
should sing.
I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
~William Shakespeare from The Life and Death of King John

The swan, like the soul of the poet,
By the dull world is ill understood.
~Heinrich Heine