Today’s Forecast: 100% Rain. Gift of falling water.

The richness of the rain made me feel safe and protected; I have always considered the rain to be healing—a blanket—the comfort of a friend. Without at least some rain in any given day, or at least a cloud or two on the horizon, I feel overwhelmed by the information of sunlight and yearn for the vital, muffling gift of falling water.

~ Douglas Coupland, from “Life After God


Notes: Quote Source – Memory’s Landscape. Photo: Patty Maher

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When poet Donald Hall met with sculptor Henry Moore, he dared to ask if Moore believed that there was a secret to life. The response astonishes: “The secret of life,” Moore answered without flinching, “is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is- it must be something you cannot possibly do.”

Imagine the courage behind these tasks. By what sacred story are you living? What task have you set for yourself? Can you tell your life story, accomplish your task, from where you are?

If you’re uncertain, turn over in you mind philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s reflection that “religion is what we do with our solitude.” Where your heart wanders during those chambered moments will show you the direction of your true longing. We speak of God and geniuses and heroes and sacred sites, but these are only names for the ineffable mystery of the force behind something our souls long to be in touch with. No practical philosophy explains this urge. It is a force from the mysterious shadow world that may in turn long for us.

~ Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred


Source: Thank you Make Believe Boutique. Portrait via Phil Cousineau

Sunday Morning

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie he finally felt as if everything was going to be okay. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair…in routine and constancy…. in hopelessness and tragedy… we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies… we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin…or a kind and loving gesture… or a subtle encouragement… or a loving embrace… or an offer of comfort.  Not to mention hospital gurneys… and nose plugs…and uneaten Danish… and soft-spoken secrets… and Fender Stratocasters…and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things… the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties…which we assume only accessorize our days… are, in fact, here for a much larger and nobler cause: They are here to save our lives.  I know the idea seems strange. But I also know that it just so happens to be true. And so it was…

~ Emma Thompson, as Karen Eiffel, from the closing lines in Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Riding Metro North. Right Place. Right Time.

Tuesday morning. 5:33 a.m. Second morning train to Grand Central.

I pause in front of the empty aisle seat. The occupant, feigning sleep, awakens immediately after my “excuse me.” He looks up the train car wondering why I hadn’t found another seat. He slides over roughly signalling displeasure. Bullsh*t.

I set my bag down onto the floor, reach down to grab my iPad, and in doing so, I clip his arm which extends into my air space. Ladies, no worries. I size up opponents carefully before jostling them. He tucks his elbow in.  I settle in, with territorial boundaries established, and all parties now in their rightful places.

I catch a whiff, it lingers for a minute, it’s foul, and then it disappears. I go back to reading. 

The train makes its first stop at Stamford. Doors hiss, open, passengers pass by, and there it is again. B.O. Heavy, thick B.O. This time it hangs. It can’t be me. Has to be Him. It vaporizes.  It can’t be Him, otherwise it would persist. I go back to reading.

Passenger passes by, and there it is again. I glance around to locate the source and then look up, and there resting (rotting?) on the overhead rack is a large, canvas backpack. Directly over top of Him. Cigarette smoke penetrates my suit jacket, does B.O.?

Train arrives at Grand Central. I get up quickly, woosy, with vertigo, looking up after 30 minutes with head in the morning papers. I exit into the underground tunnels.  Head spinning, ears ringing from the roar of the train engines, the heat, the crowds spilling down the tunnels, all swallow me whole. I step to the side out of traffic, slow my pace, take a few deep breaths and inhale a trace of urine and rancid food from garbage cans marinating overnight. 

I enter Grand Central terminal, look for the Lexington Avenue exit and punch my destination into the UBER app. 

I step on Lexington and cross the street to catch my ride.  We take FDR Drive South, and the morning sunrise pours through the window.  21 minutes to the office.

“Would you mind if I opened the window?”

“No Sir, not at all.”

I roll the window down.  I can smell, and taste the East River. The water shimmers and sparkles.  The Sun warms my face. The morning breeze is refreshing, and clears the head. The world is silent but for the wheels spinning on FDR Drive.  Buechner’s passage from the day before comes to mind: “we hear a whisper from the wings…you’ve turned up in the right place at the right time.

I will remember this.


Notes: Photo via poppins-me.

T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long week

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There is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that’s going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: “You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.”

– Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC


Notes:

  • Inspired by another quote from Whiskey River: “Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 
  • Painting “Swallow” (2011) by Nicky Loutit (via Your Eyes Blaze Out).
  • Quote via Whiskey River

Lightly Child, Lightly

I’m lighter than anything. I can hear elephant seals head-butting one another on Sand Dollar Beach ten miles away, the whoosh of the brown pelicans way below at Limekiln, gray whales groaning fifty meters off the shore at Kirk Creek; I am IMAX, high-definition Dolby, whatever.

~ A. K. Benjamin, Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Mind (Dutton, June 11, 2019)


Notes:

  • Photo: Stephen Cain
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Guess.What.Day.It.Is?

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Notes:

Truth.

It’s the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments.

~ Lisa Taddeo, Three Women (Simon & Schuster, July 9, 2019)


Notes:

  • And another passage by Lisa Taddeo from her new book: “I think about my mother’s sexuality and how she occasionally used it. The little things, the way she made her face up before she left the house or opened the door. To me, it always seemed a strength or a weakness, but never its own pounding heart. How wrong I was.”
  • From Amazon.com: “It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.”
  • NY Times Book Review by Toni Bentley
  • (Early Review 50 pages in: Exceptionally well written. Page turner. Raw/Emotional.)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Softest of mornings, hello.
And what will you do today, I wonder,
to my heart?

– Mary Oliver, from “Softest of Mornings” from Long Life:  Essays and Other Writings


Notes: Poem (via litverve). Photo by nilay eren with (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Sunday Morning

Last year, as often happens, my mood waned with the autumn light. At work, I stared blankly at my computer, inexplicably on the verge of tears. At home, I counted the minutes until I could sleep. I still woke early, intending to read and write, but instead lay on the couch, idly thumbing at my phone. I felt numb to the world. My psychiatrist adjusted my medication and suggested I invest in a light-therapy lamp. “Winter is coming,” he said without a hint of irony…

The darkness threw me over the edge. Over the next few days, as I began a free fall into despair, I was surprised to find a quiet comfort in the birds flitting about my friend’s window. Suddenly, I grew envious of his yard, a seeming prerequisite for a feeder. Then it occurred to me: I am not the first apartment dweller with this predicament. I opened Amazon, where I’d been browsing for light-therapy lamps, and discovered feeders that could be attached to our apartment windows with suction cups. “I bought myself a Christmas present,” I told my wife when I arrived at my in-laws’ house.

When we returned to Brooklyn, a house-shaped plexiglass feeder and four pounds of Deluxe Treat birdseed were waiting…Three days later, my wife texted me a picture of a blue jay. More soon appeared. So did sparrows, nuthatches, cardinals, mourning doves and a single red-bellied woodpecker. Within two weeks, I was ordering 20-pound bags of birdseed, Eastern Regional Blend, and filling the feeder’s trough daily.

Initially, it was the sheer novelty that caught my attention. My phone couldn’t compete with a woodpecker eating two feet away. Then I started to actually notice the birds, the peculiar rituals and particular charms of each species. I saw the nuthatches creeping down the window frame vertically, like awkward thieves, and dashing in for single sunflower seeds. The fat, insatiable mourning doves gorging themselves on white millet. The cardinals loitering shyly in the pear tree, waiting for them to finish.

The novelty has faded over time. But the beauty of the birds continues to draw my attention. In the tableau of blues gridded across the jay’s wing and tail, I see patterns of a Mondrian. More than once I have begun to scare away greedy doves only to stop short at the gleam of iridescent plumage. In these moments, and in the daily routine of filling the feeder with seed, I forgot my anxieties.

That something as simple as bird-watching could release me from the confines of my mind came as a surprise. When I began to struggle with depression, at an evangelical college, the faithful proffered a verse from the Gospel of Matthew: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” This provided exactly zero comfort. I wasn’t sure I still believed in a benevolent father. And besides, I’d seen enough dead birds in my cat’s maw to question their value in his eyes.

If the birds still don’t fill me with any divine reassurance, they provide something far more valuable: a respite, a chance to turn my attention away from myself to the grace and beauty of the world. I don’t know if God is feeding them, but I am.

~ David Michael, from “Letter of Recommendation: Bird Feeders” (NY Times, July 9, 2019)

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