Friday, June 24, 2011

The Joy of Memory - My Happy Places

"I can't wait until this day is over so that I can remember it," I paraphrase my friend Joy who lives to collect the wonderful memories of her life.  At the time she expressed this sentiment I thought she was a little crazy.  Memory, for most of my life, has been a bitter enemy. For years I thought it was virtually impossible for me to retain the good, the joyful or peace-filled instances I knew I had experienced.  Part of my journey of healing from a painful past was to spend time facing, living through and combatting my ugly and hurtful memories.  I understand it was important to do so, but it often came at the expense of recollecting the many blissful episodes that have completed and formed the woman I am today.  So enough of facing the pain! Those files have been thoroughly sorted, tagged and stored.  They will never go away, but they do not have to sit on my desktop for easy access, rather I can archive them and store them in the vault. That doesn't mean that some evil little file clerk won't sneak a folder into my inbox every once in a while, and I'll deal with that as it comes, but to the best of my ability I have warehoused those flashbacks of pain.

For the past year or so I've begun to dig through the unsorted pile of pleasant memories.  It's a practice that is new to me so much of my recall is unfocused and blurred, but the more that I bring to mind and place the moments under the magnifying glass of sensation the sharper they become.  To that end, I'm going to start to file by category and maybe you'll keep me company as I do so...

My Happy Places

Everyone should have memories they can call their Happy Place.  A reminiscence you can rest in when the stress level goes off the chart.  I have several of them and for some reason they all involve water:
  • Winter, 1977  - Snowless yet below freezing temp., Lake Champion (where I was raised) was a smooth, glistening mirror surface of ice and I had the big pond all to myself.  I laced up my skates and donned warm mittens and for an hour or so I was Dorothy Hamill.  I glided forward and backwards, spread eagled, figured eighted, jumped and twirled and spun like a ballerina in a music box.  Ghostly crowds of leafless trees and granite rocks cheered me on from the banks, as I competed for the gold under a cloudless azure sky.  Even now as I write this, I feel a smile spread across my face and my breathing is deeper and slower and in floats the ease. AH, youth!

  • Summers, 1968 - 1973 - My visits to Vermont to stay with my Grammie Hudson.  I would spend hours playing in the brook next to her house.  I wrote a sestina poem about this time in my life, see My Poetry page and read the poem titled The Stream to know more about this season.

  • Summer, 2000 - Antalya, Turkey, vacationing with hubbie and Turkish friends Karem & Eser at Russian run resort on the Mediterranean.  While Doug, a.k.a Rocketman, hid on the sand under a beach umbrella and towel turban reading Paul Theroux's latest; I lathered up in water-proof sunblock and made my way into a sea as blue as the Dolmabahçe Palace peacocks.  The water made me feel skinny and beautiful as I laid on my back and free-floated atop the warm ripples. Sounds of angry Russian mothers yelling at their screeching children muffled into gentle whitenoise as my ears buoyed just under the current.  Me and marbled sky, bobbing in serenity, hours passed in seconds.  My body formed a mountain range of horizon between the blue above and blue below. I was the only being on the sea and this was the only place I was meant to be forever.  Until a splash from Karem and his broken English question, "Why Americans want Bush?"  We walk through life, floating is simply not a viable long term option, I'm afraid.

  • Summer, 2009, Outer Banks, North Carolina - Mini-family reunion everyone but brother-in-law Dan & husband Doug spent a week in a rented house near the ocean.  While the rest of the family made their way to sand & sea, I stayed back to have some alone time in the pool.  Thinking that because I was wearing Doug's Bermuda shorts I didn't need much sunblock, I fought my way onto the neon green pool lounger and fell into a blissful, peace-filled rest. Sun kissed knees, toes, arms and neck with cozy warmth as I wafted and gently coasted from one end to the other of the kidney-shaped pool.  Once again, a timelessness like that of Antalya wraps me in much needed calm. Hmmmmmmmmmmm! Pain seems to always make us aware we are not dreaming.  It was the worst sunburn I'd ever had.  I couldn't move my legs the next day!  Que sera, sera! It's still a happy place though.

Monday, June 13, 2011

part 3, Such Love

My Love/Hate Relationship With Church And Denominationalism

That God should love a sinner such as I
Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss
Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh
How wonderful is love like this?

Such love, such wondrous love
Such love, such wondrous love
That God should love a sinner such as I
How wonderful is love like this.

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme
Although it meant His death on Calvary
Did ever human tongue find nobler theme
Than love divine that ransomed me?

That for a wilful outcast such as I
The Father planned, the Saviour bled and died
Redemption for a worthless slave to buy
Who long had law and grace defied.

And now He takes me to His heart a son
He asks me not to fill a servant's place
The far-off country wand'rings all are done
Wide open are His arms of grace.
C Bishop, R Harkness © 1926, 1956 Lillenas Publishing Co.

My 3rd childhood church memory centers around this hymn and time spent with the Harris family (my father's sister, husband, their 4 kids and a poodle).  My Uncle Don Harris pastored a church on Joy Blvd. in Long Island, NY called Calvary Temple. I attended this church from the ages of 5 to 10 years old, so all of my memories of it are from a little one's perspective and are as fuzzy and disjointed as this account will likely be. 

My Uncle Don reminded me of Santa Claus except with a clerical collar.  To me he was always jolly, not in the " little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly" way (he's never been an overweight man) but the Twas the Night Before Christmas poem does capture, somewhat, my experience of my Uncle when I was a kid.  The poem describes this night visitor, "His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow...," this along with an infectious throaty chortle perfectly depicts my Uncle's demeanor most of the time. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

part 2 - Love Letter To Grace United Methodist Church

 My Love/Hate Relationship With The Church & Denominationalism

Grace United Methodist Church-Plainfield, VT
 I like the Methodists.  But, my perceptions of them were conflicting growing up.  My father's family loved the founders, John & Charles Wesley.  They were drawn to their passion for the lost and how they took the Gospel to the streets, preached revival and reform to the crusty saints of their day and followed the same strain of Arminian doctrine that my  family believed whole-heartedly.  My father was given their surname as his middle moniker, John's homilies were read as devotions and often quoted in the sermons of the preachers in the Wilkerson clan; we sang Charles' penned hymns, Hark, The Herald Angels Sing at Christmas and Christ The Lord Is Risen Today every Easter morning, and my uncle and father lived by John's motto, "When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart."  I think too, these devote 18th century brothers were worthy role models for the brothers Wilkerson to follow, as they began their own evangelistic pursuits in the 20th century.  So for the paternal half of my family, it wasn't so much about the Methodist denomination, rather the influence really was simply that of the life and times of the Wesley brothers.

Yet, I was given an entirely different view of the Wesley sect from my mother's side of the family.  She was raised in the idyllic New England town of Plainfield, Vermont.  Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kincaid would trip over themselves to capture the simple, pure beauty of this little hamlet.  Set in the rolling hills of central Vermont, outside of the capital Montpelier, Plainfield's layout harkened back to the humble beginnings of the American ideal.  Dotted with white-washed, clapboard porched houses, a babbling brook, a 5 & 10 general store to buy your various sundries & staples, town hall, small community theater, firehouse and cafe that served french toast with maple syrup the owner tapped from a tree himself.  And at the center of it all was Grace United Methodist Church. Though it really is not that large of an edifice, as a little kid I thought it was a majestic place.  It's most distinguishing feature was the granite-rock slabbed fence that marked it's place from the main road into town.  It was a favorite hang-out for teenagers and wandering hippies from Goddard College---just up the road aways, and was a courting spot for young lovers.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

part 1, My Love/Hate Relationship With The Church & Denominationalism

It's the Sunday morning after Judgement Day and I'm still sitting in my jammies, still here.  I haven't been translated to Glory.  One would think, that such a fact might behoove me to run down the block to my local church and plead my case before God at the altar---just in case they missed it by a day or two.  Nah, why start now.  See I've come to believe, with a growing number, that I can meet my God and plead my case right here, in my apartment on Garfield Place, in my jammies, with the Pepto Bismal colored fluffy slippers that have the word "Princess" etched in glitter on each foot.  But, I won't be going to hell for foregoing getting all "gussied-up" and gathering with the saints in some cathedral, steepled building, Broadway theater, store-front or high school auditorium.  That's not to say I won't show up to these places from time to time, but I no longer believe it is a requirement of my faith to do so every Sabbath day (let the tirade of comments commence over that statement).

It's been a long, Spirit-filled, sometimes ugly, yet beautifully complex journey that has brought me to my current love/hate relationship with the institution know as 'church'.   And I feel the need to unpack this wild ride, mostly for myself, but for others who may have had a similiar experience.  So for the next few days or weeks I'm going to try and do just that.  I warn you this most likely will be a disjointed, possibly out of sync rendition of my experience.  But, aren't memories like that.  They are often ambivalent in nature---the good and bad knotted up in a ball of recall.  At this mid-point of my life, God is taking me through a waterfall of healing and I'm feeling that part of this process needs to include the act of writing down my story. So, for what it's worth, here goes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ugly Gals Don't Worry About Aging

"I am not a pretty girl, that's not what I do," croons Ani DiFranco, in the song I consider an anthem.  I've never been considered a pretty girl, oh I had my moment in sun in the 80's, but for the most part I've always been, what my Dad descibes as, "a handsome woman."  I did struggle with self-image over this fact for many years.  The high school period where I was desperate to be part of the "Sweethearts" and eventually did get grandfathered in but was never really considered one of them.  Not having the eyes, hair and body of Patricia, Kathleen or Cheryl.  I then had the awesome fate of sharing a bathroom with 2 blonde bombshells considered THE most popular gals at North Central Bible College. There was the proverbial struggle over weight, hair, eye-sight issues, etc. A typical struggle of an average looking girl trying to fit into a society that praises youth & beauty.

Then along came the glorious 40's!  What a blessed decade this has been so far!  Even though I started it with a wicked hot flash while riding the F train (inherited a pre-disposition to peri-menopause); though my body has decided to melt into flesh and looks not unlike the Venus of Willendorf (look it up if you dare); though I have an auto-immune disease that has only escalated and causes severe joint pain, migraines and insomnia; though my hair is thinning and beginning to gray and though liver spots have become a fixture on my hands & face---I am happy as a clam to be me!

I can truly agree with my Mother now, I AM pretty on the inside.  And because of this, I have the freedom to avoid the arduous road that so many Cougars, my age and older, are traveling on.  In horror, I watch the Desperate Housewives of fill-in-the-blank as they spend thousands of their husbands money to recapture their glory days of beauty through botox injections, boob-jobs, lipo, hours at the gym, etc.  It's as if Madame Tussand's wax figures decided to escape to the upper-middle class 'burbs.  Those poor, pathetic former beauty queens, do they know we all tune in to gawk and laugh AT them?  Do they actually think they are cheating death?  That we don't see through it all? 

Ah, but not me and my kind.  We who have been blessed with bad hair, bone-structure, skin, teeth, eyes or body-shapes can simply relax and enjoy the ride over the hill.  If you don't feel this way I encourage you my sisters, give into it, relish every gray hair, wrinkle, spot, body ache and brain fog moment. It means you HAVE LIVED!  We've earned every bit of it!  Let us declare to this vapid world of death denyers, "I am pretty on the inside. I am strong & wise because I have lived life to the fullest, see the signs of that by reading the map of this aging shell.  I am a woman---ot a girl, not a hot babe---but a woman of substance you can actually listen to because you have nothing to distract you from really hearing my thoughts & my heart." Or something to that effect.

The famous passage in Proverbs 31 praises a woman for many things---her diligence, her compassion, her acumen, her faithfulness, her love---but only once does it refer to beauty.  King Lemuel's mother warns, "Charm is deceptive, beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise."  I hope the King listened to his mother and picked a nice girl like that.

One of my favorite sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is this one,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Barren Woman's Favorite Mother's Day

I am a barren woman.  Wow, that sounds dramatic & maudlin, right.  But, it is just a fact. For whatever reason, I was not blessed to bear children of my own.  Don't worry I'm over the regret, the yearn, the feeling like an incomplete female thing that you would guess comes with 'barreness'.  I've truly reconciled with my fate.  I've also accepted that every year on the 2nd Sunday in May, no gifts or cards will be coming my way.  It's a day of giving for me, but not receiving...and that's okay.  So you can imagine my surprise at being the recipient of several homemade cards, poems and words of appreciation this past Mother's Day.

I've truly enjoyed being an Aunt to my sister's & brother's children.  My state of being as freed me up to be available to my siblings in caring for their children at some of their most precious moments of family life.  My time with them as allowed me to use my own mothering gifts to support them at crucial occasions. Like the magical time I spent with my sister's oldest, the day after she was born.  She was bottle-fed and we spent the whole night together.  I got to feed her, watch her little personality emerge even then, I sang her silly songs and soothed her gas-filled belly; while my sister got some much needed rest.  Another time, I helped to ease her frightened toddler heart when her Mom was in the hospital giving birth to her baby sister. I bought her, her own practice baby sister and talked in toddler-speak to help prepare her to meet baby, Hannah.  I had the awesome opportunity to spend time as baby-sitter for my brother's oldest daughter Gracie (I even had a small role in naming her).  Gracie & I had many wonderous moments of play-time, especially when Care Bears ruled the day.  And, don't even get me started on my nephew, Ethan, the lady-killer who strangely worships the ground I walk on (sorry I don't get to spend more time with all of them). 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Dreams Are Made Of

Yesterday, I fell asleep while watching bad TV.  This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence.  Being exhausted both physically & mentally, I fell into full-on REM mode and entered into my own indie art film based on the screen play written by memories of a funeral, shrimp fried rice and Spike TV. 

Dreams have always fascinated me, not necessarily for the possible meaning they may imply (although this can be insightful at times), but rather for their randomness, surreality, vivid and artistic nature.  The fact that we all, or most, have a built in link to our own strange creative head movies is just so, I don't know, marvelous! 

I'm sure I could Google the scientific specifics of how the process works, but that might suck the magic out of the outcome for me.  All I know is that the composite "screen writers" mentioned above filter into my brain in such a way as to produce a movie with the following plotline:

I have been asked to give a Euology at my Uncle David Wilkerson's funeral, which was being held in a hermetically sealed white room covered in plastic.  Before I am about to read my carefully crafted tribute, I receive a card with what seems to be exploding confetti inside and I accidently swallow one of the paper pieces.  It turns out this confetti was made up of some powerful acid, LSD perhaps, and I proceed to take off my clothing and sing a rendition of White Zombie's "More Human than Human".  

Thankfully I woke up before I had to endure the aftermath and reactions of such an experience.  I'm sure my therapist friends would be able to unpack the psychological significance of such a reverie; but the bottom line can simply be explained by the fact that I had just spent the past few weeks caught up in my Uncle's funeral, by my digestive juices trying to attack the fat deposits of shrimp fried rice and the drug related plot on a crime show playing on Spike TV.  

I just ate a burrito, Jeopardy's on and I'm feeling sleepy---can someone snap the clapboard and yell ACTION!  

And...blessed are they that receive

Do unto others has you would have them do unto you...Matthew 7:12
It is more blessed to give than receive...Acts 20:35

I've just emerged from 3 weeks of mourning the death of my semi-famous Uncle, David Wilkerson (I'm sure I'll write more on this later but here is a taste of the media coverage  There are lots of emotions wrapped around this event and I'm sure I will be taking the next few weeks to continue to unpack them.  Yet, so far, through this process what I've been meditating on is a new perspective on the scriptures quoted above. 

I've always felt more comfortable giving rather than receiving and often have trouble sharing my needs or asking for help.  But, these past few weeks I've realized the power of receiving from friends and family whose hearts were full and ready to offer condolences, prayers, words of encouragement through, wall posts, texts and emails.  I've felt the peace & grace of people's prayers in the past but none so powerful as was manifested to me through this sad season.  I began to think, what if I refused such an outpour, didn't read the posts & texts, didn't open cards, let the calls go to voicemail, refused the offers of meals & drinks...hid away, lived in a hermited existence alone with my grief? 
What a blessing I would've missed out on, that of receiving unconditional concern & love from friends, family and even strangers.  The depth of the familiar scripture in Acts 20:35, is that the blessing the giver receives in the act of giving also pours over to the receiver.  There would be no blessing if there was no giving, nor would there be a doubling of that blessing if the recipient did not open their arms to receive.