Friday, April 26, 2013

Friend - Five Minute Friday

I did it! I’ve missed three weeks, I think, doing Five Minute Fridays. I am intentionally not going back to count. This morning I saw the prompt and just wrote. I didn’t feel guilty about the ones I’d skipped. I didn’t think, “Oh, I should go back and do those others so I’ll have done the whole assignment.” I didn’t listen to the voice that said I didn’t have time and I probably wouldn’t do a good job anyway, what with all the other things happening in my life right now. So when I say, “I did it!” I’m saying that I overcame the voices of defeat and discouragement this morning before they even had a chance to speak. I’m also saying that I just wrote.

Just writing is so good for me. It’s like exhaling after going around holding my breath, holding my tongue, holding my heart carefully in prayerful hands to keep it from speaking out of turn. I write and I feel the taut muscles in my mind relax. Then I get to read what I’ve written, take another deep breath, and go away to the many non-writing tasks of my day. Inhale. Exhale. I am very grateful for breathing today.

I’m also grateful for friends, and that’s the topic for today’s Five Minute Friday assignment: Friend. So here’s my bit about that, in five minutes or so.

To have a friend, be a friend, my mother used to say. I hope I am a friend. Sometimes I feel so blessed by my friends that I wonder what I ever give back. I look at the time they spend listening, encouraging, hugging, cheering, and sometimes just waiting, and I wonder if I give as good as I get.

My very closest friends are the ones in whose presence I feel whole and, despite all indications to the contrary, normal. They “get” me. I do spend a lot of effort explaining myself, because I think communication is important. But sometimes, even with well-meaning listeners, it seems as if the explaining is in the wrong language. My best friends speak my language. They know that when I say I’m going shopping, it means I am facing an unpleasant challenge. They know that if I mention that it’s a rainy day, I may be reflective but I am not sad on account of the weather – I may even be happy for the grey. They understand what I say and also what I mean.

I don’t know what language that is, the one I speak that they understand. I guess everyone has a friend language, an unnamed way to speak from the heart to those who are willing and able to hear. Whatever it is, I’m glad I speak it and I’m even more glad they understand it.

Having a best friend makes it easier to breathe in those moments when life sucks the air out of me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Knowing Me

"You Don't Know Me."

It's an old Ray Charles tune to me; it was on one of my daddy's vinyl albums. Mother didn't like Ray; she thought he was too raw, I think. Daddy and I liked him just fine, and I still warm to the edginess in his voice and peformance style.

This is a new interpretation, and it was an instant favorite. That's not just because of the song, but very much because of the singer. I love the way Wil’s singing rests on Robert’s accompaniment. She doesn’t push her voice out, doesn’t force the notes into shape. It’s as if she’s lying in a hammock of guitar lines, gently rocking with the bass, eyes closed, breathing in and exhaling music. I love this song.

I think Wil sings how I want to live. Peaceful, in tune, one with the music of the spirit. Somehow it feels as if this song . .  . knows me.

I like being known.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Unexpected Jewel

I found a jewel in a surprising box. Its beauty took my breath away. Days later, I'm still trying to take in how it could have such an effect on me.

It's a gift shop, I suppose: Seven Silver Seas, in Maggie Valley, NC. I don't like gift shops, especially here. I only go in when my family members ask to go. I don't like the plastic and the Made in China. I don't like the "Indian" wares that have nothing to do with local culture or history; I feel insulted that meaningful Plains Indian traditions are shipped to China to be fashioned into trinkets to be sold to children (and adults) who are led to believe these pieces of plastic and paper and all-wrong feathers represent a connection with the ancient heritage of the Cherokee. It's not a personal insult, other than to my intelligence. As far as I know, I have no Native American genetic links, but I can still respect the uniqueness of each people group and the meanings of their traditions within that context. I do have Appalachian genetic links, and I also find it demeaning that the humans who made a life here, using local resources skillfully to work and play and create, are reduced in these gift shops to corn-cob-pipe-smoking moonshiners with guns and no brains. It's a lot to think about, and maybe I think too much, but this is why I don't like tourist gift shops.

Why, then, would I go into a store surrounded with purple baskets of purple and yellow real and  artificial flowers? Purple rocking chairs line its front, a purple picnic table sits under a purple awning; the front of the clapboard house is painted purple. This is too much, isn't it? Too-too cute. Too-too colorful. Too-too whimsical. Isn't it? But I like purple. It always catches my eye. And my husband even pointed out the shop to me, expecting me to respond positively. I held my tongue and reserved judgment. I don't like gift shops.

"You'll love our jewelry" says the sign out front. The sign doesn't specifically say "gift shop," but instead it has that intriguing name, "Seven Silver Seas." Is it a craftsman's shop? Is there a silversmith inside, fashioning jewelry from raw metal? I do want a pair of earrings - purple ones, in fact. Maybe there are real earrings in there, not plastic shiny baubles that will lose color or fall apart after a wearing or two. An idea began to nudge me. I could go alone, without the family, peek in and look only for purple earrings, slip out before anyone knew I'd been shopping. You see, not only do I not like gift shops, I don't like shopping. I don't like browsing, choosing, spending money. So I can't casually say to my family, "I think I'll run over to that little purple gift shop up the road."

On the third morning, I did it. "I'm taking a walk. I'm going to head over to that purple gift shop." They slept in, I enjoyed the morning. I walked past a mountain stream pouring itself over its rocky bed. I greeted the resting trees lining the banks, waiting for spring to fill their limbs again. I crossed the stream on a footbridge and looked for fish darting near the pilings. The road skirts a deep-green, black-earth pasture with a few grazing cattle, dark as the mud, one nursing her newest masterpiece. I left the herd and strode between the purple baskets of bright flowers and up to the front door. A gentleman exiting the shop held the door. I stepped inside and held my breath.

Where am I?
This is no gift shop. The air isn't even the same. The light is all . . . right. Gift shop light is wrong - artificial, harsh, slightly flickering from a worn-out ballast somewhere over in a corner. This is warm, live light. The colors here are rich and organic; no melted plastic colored to resemble the real thing. I exhaled, inhaled, and turned to the left.

I entered a room full of gently hanging clothing. These were soft, natural fabrics, the kind that flow over bodies like a breeze, covering and celebrating the human form. I fingered a blouse. Organic cotton, hand-dyed, hand-stitched. Someone personally poured life into this garment. There were skirts and scarves and dresses and not one single Great Smoky Mountains T-shirt with a likeness of a bear or a mountain. No machine-stamped, mass-produced, impersonal identical souvenirs here. Not a gift shop, at least not the kind I dislike. There was music, too - a lilting chanteuse singing en fran├žais, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. That was the last straw. I was never going to be able to leave this place!

I had to leave, though. I knew I couldn't stay all day; the family expected me back. Besides that, I wasn't even a shopper; more of a tourist (perish the thought) traveling through this unexpected world of beautifully crafted goods. Earrings - that's why I came in. I moved over to the second room, to the right of the front door. Here was the jewelry I'd love, as foretold on the sign out front.

The sign was right. The jewelry was gorgeous. There were bracelets and necklaces and pendants in glass cases. The clerk (long hair, large eyes, flowing bright skirt and jacket)  let me know the earrings were in boxes on top of all the cases. Boxes organized by color, as it turned out. That's just my style. I didn't rush to the purples, though. There were too many pretties along the way. Simple and ornate, spirals and lines, filigrees and solids - the variety was quite impressive; surely there was something for everyone, for every occasion, here.

If I hadn't been struck dumb by the experience, I'd have asked who made all this. I'd have asked where the materials came from. I'd have asked about the vendors for the clothing from all over the world. I'd have asked about the vegan leather purses. I'd have inquired about the incense. But I couldn't ask. I couldn't speak. My heart was in my throat, and it was a heart swelling with joy. I was breathing in color. I felt as if I were dancing, though my feet were quite still in front of the jewelry case. At last I was able to move toward the door, thank the clerk, and step outside.

I couldn't leave, though. I sat on one of those preposterous purple rocking chairs and I wept. Tears just fell out of my eyes and washed over my smile. What a beautiful store!

It was the realness that got to me, I think. I'm exceptionally sensitive to phoniness. I need truth, honesty, and nature. In the Seven Silver Seas shop I found items made of natural materials, colored with God's pigments, crafted individually by talented hands. This, in contrast to where I'd been recently, was enough to catch my notice. On a spiritual level, though, there was even more.

When I'm in a place where many people have lived and loved and struggled, my spirit is touched by the painful beauty of human life. Many times I've stopped to meditate in a historic site or a church or a theater. I feel a connection to those who have gone before, a sorrow and rejoicing with the mortality and eternity of being human. I think that's what really overpowered me at Seven Silver Seas. It was the connection to people around the world who had labored over these items, individually crafting each one, giving their best to create a beautiful thing each time. Nothing here was stamped out by a machine, tooled in a huge factory, impersonally brought into being as an identical copy of millions of other nondescript things. Each piece is unique, like the person who made it, like the person who will use it.

Finding all this in one small building was unexpected. Finding all this beauty in any building was unexpected. I sure am glad I didn't judge this "book" by its cover.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Moment of Music

My heart is aching for music. I'm in the mountains with only two of my children, just the three of us, and I've been awake for hours, alone. This never happens at home, of course. It is a time to cherish, a time to pay attention to what I want, just me, and one thing I like is music. So I'm enjoying music.

How am I doing that? I'm working on income taxes. (I just can't ever get them done early, so I brought along boxes of papers on vacation. One small bag of clothes and four milk crates of files - not your usual luggage for a retreat, but I am usually unusual.) So here I sit, going through online bank records, making lists of deductions, and listening to music. My friend Mathai has a new single, so I started with her song from iTunes, then I went to her station on my Pandora site. After a while I wanted instrumental so I switched to my Bach station on Pandora.

Does music ever paralyze you? Maybe it's just me, but I can't comfortably listen to music all the time as background accompaniment to life. Music speaks to me, and I consider it rude to interrupt when someone is speaking. Especially if the music has lyrics, I have trouble talking or reading or thinking with it on. A big chunk of my brain pays attention to words, and I find myself listening to a lyric, even a familiar one, instead of listening to the people in the room. That, for me, is also rude. People, especially people who are present with me, are more important than words. So I generally don't turn on the radio or Pandora or a CD unless I'm alone. I habitually turn off those things when someone comes into a room with me.

I don't think music is supposed to isolate me, though. I love listening to music with someone or a whole room full of someones. I think music engenders community because it communicates in a way words alone cannot. Music speaks to our spirits and reminds them to dance. I guess part of the reason I turn off music when someone enters is because I'm a self-conscious dancer. I'm not as free and confident as I'd like to be, so I don't dance a lot in company. I don't let my spirit dance in company, either, unless the company is all dancing together. Dancing feels . . . intimate . . . to me, even in public, so I'm careful about who knows I'm dancing.

With those dearest to my heart, I am able to dance freely, and for them I do not always turn off the music. With them, I can be on vacation any time - I can dance and sing and play and celebrate the joy of life, even in tiny moments of connection. It's those moments that help me keep my balance in a world that does not seem to allow much dancing. They're my little secret, those smiles and giggles and wiggles that happen in the midst of all the Very Serious Work of Life.

Today, the Very Serious Work is income tax preparation, but still I am dancing. And the music did grab me and paralyze me once - that's why I'm writing, to think it through, to figure it out. I turned to look out the picture window across the valley. I stood as if I could see the mountain opposite more clearly if my head were a foot and a half higher. Something unfamiliar was playing on Pandora, piano, reflective, probably Romantic. I couldn't ignore it. It pulled me in to the sweet sadness of the melody, the hopeful longing of the tune. It became a story and I couldn't move my eyes from the screen. I kept gazing at the mountains just far enough away to be untouchable. I unconsciously pressed hands to the glass as if joining a partner, as if that would bring me closer to the peak, where a house is perched, where the view of two valleys must be magnificent. I gasped at the imagining of such a sight. I don't know how long I stood - only a couple of minutes, maybe just a few seconds - but it was like dream time, when no time passes and everything is in the present, in the experience, in the moment.

The moment passed. Somehow I woke; I guess the music changed. I relaxed from my dancing posture and turned to find everything unchanged. The papers are still here, with the columns of numbers. The bank website is still up. The clock in the kitchen is still ticking. The children are still asleep. No changes but one.

My heart is aching for music. I started by going to music to keep me company. I gave in to the attraction, paid attention to it more and more, and now I want to do nothing else. I want to fill my head and heart and spirit with all the music I can find. I want to feel the life that only music can explain. I want to be one with the music, to dance its truth with no thought of ever stopping.

I guess I'll have to settle for Pandora and income taxes.

I sure am glad for those secret moments, though.