It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
….in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves— nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them— the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs.
… if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end— ~Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden
I revel in being the good egg. Smooth on the surface, gooey inside, often a bit scrambled, yet ordinary and decent, indistinguishable from others, blending in, not making waves.
It’s not been bad staying just as I am. Except I can no longer remain like this.
A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell from bumps along the way, and a crack up one side extends daily.
It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.
Nothing can be the same again: the fragments of shell left behind must be abandoned as useless confinement.
Newly hatched and transformed: there is the wind beneath my wings. I’ll soar toward an endless horizon that stretches beyond eternity, no longer ordinary.
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The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did…
I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. ~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
Today, as always during the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together with a slew of the no-longer-living. Some, who have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, my alcoholic grandfather (who I remember as a very old man) who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age I am now, my grandmother from whom I inherited inherent messiness and the love of things that bloom, my parents who divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
These givers of my genes rest here in this beautiful place above Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains with shining snow beside them. It is a peaceful spot to lay one’s dust for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder if they keep up this annual tradition of the cemetery-visit.
The world as it is…remembers the world that was.
The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration where we pray no one is missing.
All in good time. All in good time.
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The talkative guest has gone, and we sit in the yard saying nothing. The slender moon comes over the peak of the barn.
The air is damp, and dense with the scent of honeysuckle. . . . The last clever story has been told and answered with laughter.
With my sleeping self I met my obligations, but now I am aware of the silence, and your affection, and the delicate sadness of dusk. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Visit” from Collected Poems
As we slowly adapt to evenings spent with family and friends again, taking off our masks to actually witness the emotion on a familiar, now unveiled, face:
There are smiles and laughter again. We are trying to remember how to be ourselves outside the fearfulness that contagion wrought. More important: there are tears again. And wistfulness. And regret. And longing.
This delicate sadness happened – even to those of us who were never directly touched by sickness. We will never be the same, never so light of heart again, remembering what this past year has cost.
It is a slow transition to dusk. We sit together now and watch it come.
Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars… don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones. ~H.Jackson Brown Jr. from “Life’s Little Instruction Book”
Life is a marshmallow, easy to chew but hard to swallow. ~Francis Bacon
And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop. ~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner
Always, no sometimes, think it’s me But you know I know when it’s a dream I think I know I mean a yes But it’s all wrong That is I think I disagree
Let me take you down ‘Cause I’m going to Marshmallow Fields Nothing is real And nothing to get hung about Marshmallows Fields forever ~with apologies to John Lennon and The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever”
It’s marshmallow harvest season once again, just in time for this long holiday weekend’s camp fires, scary ghost stories, roasting sticks, chocolate bars and graham crackers.
After a year of isolation and loneliness, I am ready for our life together to begin again, seeking s’more to chew on, sticky, messy and oh so glorious.
I sit in silence looking out over the marshmallow fields, hoping the world won’t stop.
No, not ever again.
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Buttercup’s heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.
Buttercup: We’ll never survive. Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.
Westley: Hear this now. I will always come for you. Buttercup: But how can you be sure? Westley: This is true love. You think this happens every day?
Westley: “I told you I would always come for you. Why didn’t you wait for me?” Buttercup: “Well… you were dead.” Westley: “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” Buttercup: “I will never doubt again.” Westley: “There will never be a need.”
That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back. ~William Golding, above quotes from The Princess Bride
How was I ever blessed to find just such a farm boy? A farm boy who says “I love you” in many ways every day, as the walls of my secret garden heart come tumbling down…
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My mother, Elna Schmitz Polis, was born 101 years ago today in the lonely isolation of a Palouse wheat and lentil farm in eastern Washington. She drew her first breath in a two story white house located down a long poplar-lined lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills.
She attended a one room school house until 8th grade, located a mile away in the rural countryside, then moved in with her grandmother “in town” in Rosalia to attend high school, seeing her parents only a couple times a month.
It was a childhood which accustomed her to solitude and creative play inside her mind and heart – her only sibling, an older brother, was busy helping their father on the farm. All her life and especially in her later years, she would prefer the quiet of her own thoughts over the bustle of a room full of activities and conversation.
Her childhood was filled with exploration of the rolling hills, the barns and buildings where her father built and repaired farm equipment, and the chilly cellar where the fresh eggs were stored after she reached under cranky hens to gather them. She sat in the cool breeze of the picketed yard, watching the huge windmill turn and creak next to the house. She helped her weary mother feed farm crews who came for harvest time and then settled in the screened porch listening to the adults talk about lentil prices and bushel production. She woke to the mourning dove call in the mornings and heard the coyote yips and howls at night.
She nearly died at the age of 13 from a ruptured appendix, before antibiotics were an option. That near-miss seemed to haunt her life-long, filling her with worry that it was a mistake that she survived that episode at all. Yet she thrived despite the anxiety, and ended up, much to her surprise, living a long life full of family and faith, letting go at age 88 after fracturing a femur, breaking her will to continue to live.
As a young woman, she was ready to leave the wheat farm behind for college, devoting herself to the skills of speech, and the creativity of acting and directing in drama, later teaching rural high school students, including a future Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carolyn Kizer. She loved words and the power and beauty they wielded.
Marrying my father was a brave and impulsive act, traveling by train to the east coast only a week before he shipped out for almost 3 years to the South Pacific to fight as a Marine in WWII. She must have wondered about the man who returned from war changed and undoubtedly scarred in ways she could not see or touch. They worked it out, as rocky as it must have been at times, and in their reconciliation after their divorce years later, I could see the devotion and mutual respect of life companions who shared purpose and love.
As a wife and mother, she rediscovered her calling as a steward of the land and a steward of her family, gardening and harvesting fruits, vegetables and children tirelessly. When I think of my mother, I most often think of her tending us children in the middle of the night whenever we were ill; her over-vigilance was undoubtedly due to her worry we might die in childhood as she almost did.
She never did stop worrying until the last few months. As she became more dependent on others in her physical decline, she gave up the control she thought she had to maintain through her “worry energy” and became much more accepting about the control the Lord maintains over all we are and will become.
I know from where my shyness comes, my preference for birdsongs rather than radio music, my preference for naps, and my tendency to be serious and straight-laced with a twinkle in my eye. This is my German Palouse side–immersing in the quietness of solitude, thrilling to the sight of the spring wheat flowing like a green ocean wave in the breeze and appreciating the warmth of rich soil held in my hands. From that heritage came my mother and it is the legacy she has left with me. I am forever grateful to her for her unconditional love and her willingness to share the warmth of her nest whenever we felt the need to fly back home and shelter, overprotected at times but safe nonetheless, under her wings.
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Every time you leave home, Another road takes you Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await. New places that have never seen you Will startle a little at your entry. Old places that know you well Will pretend nothing Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself Alone in a different way, More attentive now To the self you bring along, Your more subtle eye watching You abroad; and how what meets you Touches that part of the heart That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune To the timbre in some voice, Opening in conversation You want to take in To where your longing Has pressed hard enough Inward, on some unsaid dark, To create a crystal of insight You could not have known You needed To illuminate Your way.
When you travel, A new silence Goes with you, And if you listen, You will hear What your heart would Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing: Make sure, before you go, To take the time To bless your going forth, To free your heart of ballast So that the compass of your soul Might direct you toward The territories of spirit Where you will discover More of your hidden life, And the urgencies That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way, Gathered wisely into your inner ground; That you may not waste the invitations Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed, And live your time away to its fullest; Return home more enriched, and free To balance the gift of days which call you. ~ John O’Donohue from To Bless The Space Between Us
We are out of the habit of traveling after remaining home for over a year waiting out the pandemic. So a two-day road trip to visit a grandchild takes on nearly mythic proportions: all senses on alert – wondering at new sights and sounds and smells, traveling in “an awakened way.”
One doesn’t have to journey beyond borders to feel like the “other” – a grocery store in rural Wyoming can seem just as foreign when we are perceived as the strangers by our appearance. Clearly we were “out of towners” – driving a Japanese-made hybrid sedan, not a F150 pickup, wearing Keen shoes, not cowboy boots, wearing COVID masks even though fully vaccinated out of respect for others while everyone else is unmasked and clearly suspicious of our apparent “virtual signaling.”
When others see me as a stranger, I in turn see myself differently when I’m not at home. Out “there,” I am seen as a gray-haired senior citizen who isn’t completely comfortable with where I am going or where I’ve been; nothing is familiar so I am slightly disoriented and unsure of myself and what might happen next.
At home, I’m still young in my head if not considerably older and fluffier in body, usually confident about what will happen next in my day. Traveling takes me out of myself and my precious routine, picks me up and puts me where I don’t expect to be. I’m transformed and enlightened even when feeling a bit out of time and place.
It is a good thing to see oneself with different eyes and not always know what will happen next. An adventure around every corner is just fine for a week or so. But coming home from a journey is the truest gift. I look to the east and to the west on our rural country road and think about who and what lies beyond our farm on a hill, knowing that I’m always better for having ventured out to see what I could see.
And even better for having this place to come home to.
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Come, Holy Spirit, bending or not bending the grasses, appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame, at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow covers crippled firs… ~Czeslaw Milosz from “Veni Creator” inSelected and Last Poems
The cows munched or stirred or were still. I was at home and lonely, both in good measure. Until the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: but the cows as before were calm, and nothing was burning, nothing but I, as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched my tongue and pulled my voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” inBreathing the Water
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
Today, when I feel at times without hope, as mute and dumb as cattle chewing the cud, as the bent world reels with illness, blood and violence, I remain in hiding: my faith feels frail, love seems distant.
I wait, stilled for the moment I am lit afire ~ when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known forever burning in my heart deep down, brooded over by His bright wings: His dearest in this moment and for eternity.
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They disappear with friends near age 11. We lose them to baseball and tennis, garage bands, slumber parties, stages where they rehearse for the future, ripen in a tangle of love knots. With our artificial knees and hips we move into the back seats of their lives, obscure as dust behind our wrinkles, and sigh as we add the loss of them to our growing list of the missing.
Sometimes they come back, carting memories of sugar cookies and sandy beaches, memories of how we sided with them in their wars with parents, sided with them even as they slid out of our laps into the arms of others.
Sometimes they come back and hold onto our hands as if they were the thin strings of helium balloons about to drift off.
~Olivia Stiffler “Grandchildren”, from Otherwise, We Are Safe
Spending a few precious days with a grandchild who lives far away just whets the appetite for wanting more time. These are such short years before they are off to their own lives, leaving their grandparents (and parents) behind.
So when they take my hand, my heart melts, knowing I hold on loosely, knowing I must, someday, somehow, let go.
And before I do, they will come back to hold my hand loosely, knowing they need to let me go.