Body is something you need in order to stay on this planet and you only get one. And no matter which one you get, it will not be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful enough, it will not be fast enough, it will not keep on for days at a time, but will pull you down into a sleepy swamp and demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
Body is a thing you have to carry from one day into the next. Always the same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same skin when you look in the mirror, and the same creaky knee when you get up from the floor and the same wrist under the watchband. The changes you can make are small and costly—better to leave it as it is.
Body is a thing that you have to leave eventually. You know that because you have seen others do it, others who were once like you, living inside their pile of bones and flesh, smiling at you, loving you, leaning in the doorway, talking to you for hours and then one day they are gone. No forwarding address. ~Joyce Sutphen, “Living in the Body” from Coming Back to the Body.
All bodies are fragile vessels, right from the beginning. I know this because I live inside an aging one and experience its limitations daily. Yet it is the only one I’ll ever have, though an imperfect reflection of my Creator – like it or not. Frankly, I greatly respect it having kept me going for 68 years so far and hoping for a few more.
I grieve for the young and strong who are often dissatisfied with the body they are given, spending immense time and resources to change what they can and agonizing over what is unchangeable.
What is unchangeable is that we’ll leave this empty husk behind at some point when we move on, leaving no forwarding address other than @heavenabove. We have watched it happen to those we love who have died too young because of system failure from an impossible-to-survive insult, and it happens to those who simply ran out of breaths after multiple decades of functioning heart and lungs.
My imperfect body doesn’t define me as it didn’t define those who have left before me. It isn’t who I was when I came to be, and it isn’t who I will be after I depart. But it deserves my ongoing admiration, awe and honor, along with my commitment to keep it in running order as long as I am able.
And I’ll try to confirm a forwarding address before I go.
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There was an entire aspect to my life that I had been blind to — the small, good things that came in abundance. ~Mary Karr from The Art of Memoir
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder, quotes from “Our Town”
The words from “Our Town” written over 80 years ago still ring true: at that time our country was crushed under the Great Depression, and now out country is staggering under a Great Depression of the spirit~ despite more connected electronically, we are, due to politics and pandemic, more isolated from family, friends, faith.
Thought more economically secure, we are emotionally bankrupt.
May we always be conscious of our many treasures and abundance, while taking care of others in need.
God, in His everlasting recognition of our perpetual need of Him, cares for us, even while we turn our faces away from Him.
I search the soil of this life, this farm, this faith to find what yearns to grow, to bloom, to fruit, in order to be harvested to share with others.
My deep gratitude goes to you who visit here and to those who let me know the small and the good I share with you makes a difference in your day
I’m right alongside you in joint Thanksgiving to our Creator and Preserver.
And Is it not enough that every year A richly laden autumn should unfold And shimmer into being leaf by leaf, It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere In hints and glints of hidden red and gold Threaded like memory through loss and grief, When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled, When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel And ready us for winter with strange calm, That I should see the inner tree revealed And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall And feel its truth within me as I am?
It is not yet enough. So I must try, In my poor turn, to help you see it too, As though these leaves could be as rich as those, That red and gold might glimmer in your eye, That autumn might unfold again in you, Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose. ~Malcolm Guite from “And is it Not Enough?”
As the rains return, and the leaves turn and fall, we shelter together, blessed by years and miles, our unknown becoming known, our understanding of nakedness breathed in silence.
Though we be gray as the clouds above, our hearts beat in synchrony each pulsing moment more sacred than our last.
More beauty in words and photography in this book, available to order here:
Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
It appears now that there is only one age and it knows nothing of age as the flying birds know nothing of the air they are flying through or of the day that bears them up through themselves and I am a child before there are words arms are holding me up in a shadow voices murmur in a shadow as I watch one patch of sunlight moving across the green carpet in a building gone long ago and all the voices silent and each word they said in that time silent now while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight ~W.S. Merwin, “Still Morning” from The Shadow of Sirius
Our memories can play tricks. A whiff of a fragrance can trigger an experience of another time and place, a song can transport us to a decade long ago, a momentary sensation will remind us of a past experience long forgotten.
We dwell inside a different age as the years go by, in a body that no longer looks or feels exactly the same, yet our memories take us powerfully back to a special moment that happened before. For those who struggle with post-trauma recollections, this is a curse to be overcome. For those whose memories bring joy and comfort, they seek to nurture and cherish what has been as if it is still here and now.
We must remember the light, just as the poet W.S. Merwin in this poem “Still Morning” remembers the moment of his baptism in a church long gone and whose voices are long-stilled. The Light of that day remains, as fresh today as it was when it moved toward him.
Our memories aren’t tricks. They are as powerfully a part of us as the here and now: a moving patch light touching us here from back then.
It’s a motley lot. A few still stand at attention like sentries at the ends of their driveways, but more lean askance as if they’d just received a blow to the head, and in fact they’ve received many, all winter, from jets of wet snow shooting off the curved, tapered blade of the plow. Some look wobbly, cocked at oddball angles or slumping forlornly on precariously listing posts. One box bows steeply forward, as if in disgrace, its door lolling sideways, unhinged. Others are dented, battered, streaked with rust, bandaged in duct tape, crisscrossed with clothesline or bungee cords. A few lie abashed in remnants of the very snow that knocked them from their perches. Another is wedged in the crook of a tree like a birdhouse, its post shattered nearby. I almost feel sorry for them, worn out by the long winter, off-kilter, not knowing what hit them, trying to hold themselves together, as they wait for news from spring. ~Jeffrey Harrison “Mailboxes in Late Winter”
This time of year I too often feel like an off-kilter mailbox – rusty, dented, leaning rather than upright, covered with mildew and lichens — it will take some effort to look presentable after a long winter.
There isn’t much that would recommend me as a potential destination; most of the mail that is delivered to me is junk mail or bills. It is a rare pleasure to find a hand-addressed card or note. I have myself to thank for that: I rarely send one to anyone else. I’m not even sure I could find a stamp at home if I wanted one.
It reminds me how infrequently I actually hand write any form of communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of texting and email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life.
Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.
It has been too long. It’s time to commit to writing a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to tangibly feel my caring about them, right in their hands.
Then just maybe, I can share news of the spring to come.
The old church leans awry and looks quite odd, But it is beautiful to us, and God. ~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”
The church knelt heavy above us as we attended Sunday School, circled by age group and hunkered on little wood folding chairs where we gave our nickels, said our verses, heard the stories, sang the solid, swinging songs.
It could have been God above in the pews, His restless love sifting with dust from the joists. We little seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting to grow toward the light.
Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside, an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp- edged shadows back to their buildings, or how the winter air knifed after the dreamy basement.
Maybe the day we learned whatever would have kept me believing I was just watching light poke from the high, small window and tilt to the floor where I could make it a gold strap on my shoe, wrap my ankle, embrace any part of me. ~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”
There could be so much wrong with the church overall, comprised as it is with fallen people with broken wings, looking odd and leaning awry, determined to find flaws in each other’s doctrine, rituals, tradition, beliefs.
What is right with the church: who we pray to, why we sing, whose body we comprise so bloodied, fractured, yet healed despite our thoroughly motley messiness~ Our Lord of Heaven and Earth rains down His restless love upon our heads.
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
I don’t pay close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes when I’m constantly looking for kleenex to stem the flow. During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out from my tears the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and where I am to be next, so I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.
It mostly has to do with spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays. It is about reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude. It certainly has to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that letting-go part.
We urged and encouraged our children to go where their hearts told them they are needed and called to be, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future. It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I’m granted the years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children and grandchildren. They release a fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.
“There’s never an end to dust and dusting,” my aunt would say as her rag, like a thunderhead, scudded across the yellow oak of her little house. There she lived seventy years with a ball of compulsion closed in her fist, and an elbow that creaked and popped like a branch in a storm. Now dust is her hands and dust her heart. There’s never an end to it. ~Ted Kooser “Carrie” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985
My Great Aunt Marion was considered odd, no question about it. She usually dressed in somber woolens, smelling faintly of mothballs and incense. Her straight gray hair was bobbed with bangs, unfashionable for the wavy permanents of the fifties and the beehives of the sixties. Aunt Marion was a second grade teacher all her life, never marrying, and she lived for over 50 years in a spotless tiny apartment until the day she died in 1975. She bequeathed what little she had to the church she had faithfully attended a few blocks away and was buried in the family plot on a windswept hill overlooking Puget Sound.
I was overseas when she died, and to my knowledge, none of the extended family attended her funeral. In her retirement years she had become reclusive and remote. It was clear visitors weren’t welcome so visits to her became rare. In an effort to counteract that, I have annually visited her gravesite for the past 30+ years, paying homage to this aunt who remained an enigma in life and became even more mysterious in death.
She grew up in the early 20th century in an impoverished German immigrant family who relocated from Wisconsin to the northwest. Her father was gone most of the year running steamboats up the Yukon, leaving her mother to make do as a some time school teacher and full time mother. Her older brother dropped schooling early for the rough and ready life of the local logging camps but Marion finished teachers’ college at the Western Washington Normal School on the hill in Bellingham. She began her life’s work teaching 2nd grade a few miles away at Geneva Elementary School, and became the primary caretaker in her mother’s declining years.
Her shock over her brother’s marriage to a much younger teenage girl in 1917 created foment within an already fractious family that persisted down through the generations. As the offspring of that union, my father tried to prove his worth to his judgmental aunt. She was had a spiky and thorny personality, stern and unforgiving, but politely tolerated his existence though would never acknowledge his mother. Family gatherings weren’t possible due to the ongoing bitter conflict between the two strong-willed ladies.
Though Marion was childless, her heart belonged to her many students as well as a number of children she sponsored through relief organizations in developing countries around the world. Her most visible joy came from her annual summer trip to one of those exotic countries to meet first hand the child she was sponsoring. It seemed to fuel her until the next trip could be planned. She visited Asia and India numerous times, as well as Central and South America. It provided the purpose that was missing in the daily routine of her life at home.
I moved to my great aunt’s community over three decades ago, 10 years after she had died. I’d occasionally think of her as I drove past her old apartment building or the Methodist church she attended. Several years ago, I noticed a new wing on the old church, modern, spacious and airy. I commented on it to a co-worker who I knew attended that church.
He said the old church building had undergone significant remodeling over the years to update the wiring and plumbing, to create a more welcome sanctuary for worship and most recently to add a new educational wing for Sunday School and after school programs during the weekdays. As one of the council members in the church’s leadership, he commented that he was fortunate to attend a church equipped with financial resources to provide programs such as this in a struggling neighborhood that had more than its share of latch-key kids and single parents barely making do. He mentioned an endowment from a bequest given over 40 years ago by a spinster schoolteacher in her will. This lady had attended the church faithfully for years, and was somewhat legendary for her silent weekly presence in the same pew and that she rarely spoke to others in the church. She arrived, sat in the same spot, and left right after the service, barely interacting. Upon her death, she left her entire estate to the church, well over $1 million in addition to the deed to an oil well in Texas which has continued to flow and prosper over the past several decades. The new wing was dedicated to her memory as it represented her expressed desire for her neighborhood.
I asked if her name was Marion and he stared at me baffled. Yes, I knew her, I said. Yes, she was a remarkable woman. Yes, how proud she would be to see her legacy – what she had worked so hard for and then left behind — come to fruition.
There were times as I was growing up I wondered if my Great Aunt Marion had a secret lover somewhere, or if she led a double life as her life at home seemed so lonely and painful. I know now that she did have a secret life. She loved the children she had made her own and she lived plainly and simply in order to provide for others who had little. Her extended family is better off having never inherited that money or an oil well. It could have torn an already conflicted family apart and Marion knew, estranged from her only blood relatives, her money would hurt us more than it would help.
Her full story has died with her. Even so, I mourn her anew, marveling at what became of the dust of her, the legacy she chose to leave.
Life is a stream On which we strew Petal by petal the flower of our heart; The end lost in dream, They float past our view, We only watch their glad, early start.
Freighted with hope, Crimsoned with joy, We scatter the leaves of our opening rose; Their widening scope, Their distant employ, We never shall know. And the stream as it flows Sweeps them away, Each one is gone Ever beyond into infinite ways. We alone stay While years hurry on, The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays. ~Amy Lowell “Petals”
The stream of time flows ever faster, rushing away my remembrance of yesterday, the quiet moments today, my hope for tomorrow. Every day – a petal thrown into the cascade – disappears one by one, never to return. What of my dreams will last as they droop and drop and scatter? It is a lingering fragrance their roots leave behind; that is how to be remembered.