January 21, 2018 § 2 Comments
There’s a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in, continues Leonard Cohen’s impassioned lyrics from his song Anthem.
My last Journal post was July 2017. I’d just completed the first draft of my novel. Second draft re-writes were upon me, but I felt a malignancy shrouded the land and was immersed in an addictive distraction: news and news and more news. I saw too many disturbing events, heard over-the-top insolent and crude language, witnessed bigotry and racism dive to demonic depths. I had to stop watching and listening as I observed my own anger loom, stimulating judgments and intolerance of people and places and things. An inner peace I had come to know these past years finally cracked. Or, so I thought.
I did not insulate myself, nor become indifferent. How could I? How could I cast people and tragedy out of my heart? But, I couldn’t remain an angry soul either. I returned to serious meditation and yoga practices for the first time in too long a time. I listened to Dharma teachings and re-read my books on Buddhist philosophy, many of which contained teachings of the Dalai Lama: My religion is Kindness. Through these dedicated daily practices, I realized that Kindness is the only religion broad enough and deep enough, free from exclusion and judgment and bias, for my inner soul land.
Though a life-long process, these practices enable my equanimity to gradually blossom again: I judge less and less each day; my outrage, thankfully, has diminished; compassion has taken up residence in my heart once again not only toward others—but myself as well. Oh, I still struggle to see the whole chess board at times rather than my solely narrow, too often self-absorbed, life. I’m keenly aware we live in an aching world. But also, I believe in the impermanence of all things. Change is constant. It always was, is, and will be. Change, Love, Kindness, Compassion, among others, are four Great Laws of the Universe—they personify the unbearable beauty of this so very human life.
If we are not dedicated activists or caregivers or first-responders engaged in heroic or quiet efforts helping others, that does not mean we can’t ring bells and be a light in the world. A simple smile can make one person happy and then another and another. Laughter performs miracles. It’s contagious. It heals. Love and kindness and compassion: These qualities encompass what our souls are and what we seek for ourselves and others. And, the more we love, radiate kindness—permit me to be trite?—the better our world will be.
You’re probably ringing bells and creating light in the world in your own way. I choose to help by devoting time to create words and images that stir something positive within us, find celestial light through candles mirrored in a window on a dark, snowy morning before the daylight slips over the horizon, or transform the crowd of thoughts that tumble and muddy our minds into clear, calm water if only for a single moment.
Once the news addiction was cast off, I was liberated. I rang bells again when the landscape finally surrendered all color. A haiku written by Matsuo Basho haunted me ~
The monastery bell stops ~ but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
I revivified an oil and wax painting I did years ago, reinterpreting its original intent. I reasoned that if sound can continue after the monastery bell stops ringing, and it does, so can color remain in our hearts and souls. Why not? This was my way of breathing color into a monochromatic world: bold, flowing, uninhibited.
A stone Jizo found its way to me (you’ve already seen one of his images above). Jizo appears throughout this Journal writing—all five inches of this joyful statue. There are many positive attributes associated with Jizo, so the fables tell. The most important to me of his many and varied stories is that he presides over a world that few like to think about, not unlike ours today, but especially as protector of children, including the souls of the aborted or stillborn or miscarried babies. Jizo protects them from harm and guides them onto their next journeys.
Photographing this sweet-faced, happy fellow was in itself a meditation: I was outside of time, unaware of anything but Jizo and my camera. There is truth in myths if we open ourselves to the ‘teaching’ in the story. Anything, anyone, who inspires the protection of children, and those never born, rings bells enabling light to filter through sorrowful fissures in the soul.
I’ve lived for more than four years just two short blocks from the Hudson River in the charming, historic Village of Athens. The Hudson River is my friend. I walk early mornings when weather permits and indulge in long musings, even chats, with the River’s flow. This is a place to stop, release what I perceive to be pressing matters inhabiting my mind and heart, but in fact are not reality, and just listen, not unlike Siddhartha did in his ancient years in Hesse’s book of the same name. I am blessed to have this at my doorstep. This wondrous vision—clouds the color of sweet-cream butter, gray and lavender mists weaving and rising in the distance, bare trees standing tall, unyielding, and the River itself ever present—is a serenity bell that rings for me; for all who want to see and to listen.
Continue to ring the bells that are your heart; your soul. Start ringing bells if you haven’t, and see what happens. Smile a lot. Laugh even more. Release all the love you have even to those whom you believe don’t deserve it. Find a quiet spot every day, and sit—on a cushion, a chair, a bench and then, then—b r e a t h e.
I am not a Pollyanna and do not suggest that any of these practices are easy, at least not for me. Meditation has helped me touch the ‘better angels’ of my mind and heart—at times. I hope that someday, maybe, just maybe, I realize I am truly kind and compassionate and a vessel filled with love.
I wish this too for each of you.
Ring the bells that still can ring;
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Thank you, Leonard Norman Cohen.
~ And, thank you, dear Readers ~
July 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
I woke at four o’clock to a sultry morning. Rain falls. Steady. Soft. Somnolent. Birdsong wanes when rain begins. A lone bird calls to another sheltered in branches and leaves. My apartment is more tree house than apartment. All windows look out upon woodland and wildlife. With my morning mug of freshly brewed Assam tea, I hear the first sounds of life; see the first muted light of day. A cherished, quiet hour.
Following my February Journal post, I plunged into writing my book (planned debut in 2018), undertook a photographic study of the Life of a Rose in Black & White, and knew I needed, no ached, to paint again. I turned to a form I merely played with many years ago: the Zen spiritual practice of ensō painting.
Ensō: The Way of the Brush
Traditional ensō paintings are circles on rice paper using sumi-e ink. Some circles are open; others closed. They’re executed in one stroke of the brush on the final out breath, the ah, of the artist’s breathing meditation. The circles need not be perfect and are defined as emptiness and fullness, infinity, the womb—and more. Painting ensōs is called, The Way of the Brush: the title for the genesis of my ensō series.
While I bonded with the ensō those many years ago, today I’ve brought color, texture, and abandonment, rather than discipline, to the brush. Painting, like writing, is essential to maintaining my peace and ease of heart. The ensō symbolizes ‘perfection in the imperfection’ of all things; all nature.
The Life of a Rose in Black & White
The rose bud was long, elegant: a prelude. Then, a measured unfolding into the glory of full bloom. She lived a day, maybe more; her inner life revealing unsolvable mysteries of creation. Though still beautiful, her petals wearied; she surrendered to transience—L’ah final.
The Blossom on the Road
On an early walk one sunny morning, she lay on the road—a sole, whole blossom among sisters and brothers already perished. I slowed my walking pace, carrying her home in cupped hands like a new born being.
My work is heartfelt: a form of service and a gentle, steadfast activism of love. Be love. Be loving awareness, says one of my spiritual teachers, Ram Dass. If I can create communion through words and images; stir something within that helps another recognize life as an unbearable beauty, rather than a dusty, wounded world, perhaps, just perhaps, I will have done one small thing right and good.
In lovingkindness. May all beings be free.
February 16, 2017 § 1 Comment
In a place and time long forgotten by me, I read we are all ‘athletes of God’ in some area of our lives. An athlete of God! Is this the strand unique to each of us, the marrow our journeys ask us to embrace? And, did God plant it there? At best, these are existential questions. But perhaps, just perhaps, they are not.
I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story and it is mine. It is not a narrative of my life. Not here. Not now. You may ask, why should you care? Because it’s a good story; and it may help someone, somewhere.
In 2016, I decided to write a novel. Research for the novel sent me into the past—twenty years, maybe more—where I discovered this somewhat lofty phrase, an athlete of God. It was a notation made in green ink on worn, yellowed paper in my IMAGINE file: a file consisting of various clippings, scribbled ideas for children’s stories, concepts for photo shoots, and inspirations for paintings. Painting? Yes, I used to paint.
And this is where the story begins.
Four years ago, any material wealth I still possessed finally evaporated. Everything. Income from free-lance consulting, my home and studio—a sanctuary for creating: whether painting, photography, or writing. I sold worthwhile clothes, accessories, art work, cameras, lenses, and all my painting supplies. I auctioned furniture and jewelry—all acquired when money flowed.
I was broke. No 401k, nor Roth IRA. Nothing. I devastated my small savings trying to maintain property two years longer than affordable. I did not know how, or where, I could live on my modest social security. I launched a campaign to find work in upstate New York: advertisements, résumés, letters, and phone calls to people and places I knew, and did not know. Not one response.
As the bank began foreclosure proceedings, I hunted for a room, a small apartment, perhaps a caretaker’s cottage. I finally prayed a fox-hole prayer: Dear God, please, I need somewhere to live. And, it was provided: subsidized housing.
Friends surfaced from known as well as surprising places. They helped me pack and move the remaining fragments from what was once a home and studio to an apartment—and a new chapter in my life.
The apartment is a comfortable one-bedroom: quiet, pretty, and filled with light. It dwells in the charming historic Village of Athens, New York situated along the Hudson River. The views from each of my four windows are of woodlands and wild life. It is a safe harbor.
At one stage in our materialistic world view, I had it all. All meaning lots of money, beautiful clothes, a loft apartment in the West Village of New York City, and a storybook log cabin sitting on forty-three acres at the top of a mountain in upstate New York. What happened? Life happened. Choices and decisions too: geographic moves and extensive restorations of three different homes. The 2001 Recession decimated a healthy retirement portfolio. Even so, I continued to earn decent free-lance income and believed it would always be there—until the 2008 Depression. I never used credit cards; but I saved little. Over a decade-and-a-half, I watched my financial status move from very-comfortable-to-scarcity. I blame no one, and no longer myself: the latter requiring I forgive my weaknesses and move on.
I felt outside of time surrendering to each trial as it occurred: I knew I was protected. For two decades, a still small voice urged me toward right-sizing my life to a simpler existence. The sequence of events compassed me from bondage into freedom—a freedom of soul and of spirit. God smiled upon me; He always had. But, my heart’s eyes and ears were filled with the world’s clamor, clutter, and things. I did not hear Him. I do now.
Do I miss any of it? No. Except for painting. My studio dwindled from five hundred square feet to a six by eight foot space in the corner of my bedroom. It’s simple and it works. Though the painting stopped, creating photo images and writing have not.
I am a woman of faith. Nevertheless, faith was not the centerpiece of my life when I perceived holding the world in my hands. It strengthened during seasons of challenge. I am grateful for spiritual journeys through Buddhist, Episcopalian, and Evangelical teachings. Each enriched my life in ways known and still to be discovered.
Following decades of discernment, I returned to what I thought I never would: Catholicism, the religion of my youth. The entirety of my life experience helped me see my faith and church today through a wide-angle lens: Ours is one seeking inclusion, not exclusion; a greater compassion, not judgment, for the entire human family; and, we are kinder and gentler—with others and ourselves.
Wendell Berry wrote: It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. I was where I was supposed to be four years ago: I didn’t know what the next day would bring, or what I was supposed to do. In these quiet seasons of contemplation, prayer, writing, and creating art, a revelation emerged: I am an athlete of God—as are we all. For me, it means learning to love more and larger, being a better human example on this planet, and serving wherever and however I am able. And this we do, or can do, in our unique ways. Love is medicine for the hearts of others.
I begin formal hospice training in March, almost a year following the death of my friend, Linda, whose story is found in this Journal: Even a Lioness Dies. Last April, visiting her at St. Peter’s Hospice in Albany, I received a calling: Too many people wait alone to die; some are completely immobile, yet alert; others are in hollowed bodies with vacant eyes too large for their gaunt faces. Until the final exhale—a touch, a word, a cool cloth to the forehead are heard and felt. I never knew what a calling was until it happened. I pray to fulfill what is needed; I know the tug in my heart won’t let go until I try.
Writing and creating art are necessary components to my calling. Today I share a few photographs, four of seventy-five, taken this winter. You are also viewing abstract prints of wax and oil paintings. I’ve reinterpreted these paintings into prints. The original concepts, the chaos and order of my painting style, remain in each.
Having it all and losing it helped me discover what’s important. My wealth today is not measurable by worldly standards; my annual income is below poverty level. And yet, I am grateful for the abundance in my life. These statements may appear at variance to a solely rational mind. However, once I surrendered my self-centered need to control my life, my mind and heart set on the things of Spirit. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. ~ Matthew 6:21. I continue to face trials, as we all do. I have come to know the Spirit within; He carries me when I falter, and I trust Him.
I take small, humble baby steps seeking to provide genuine compassion, love, and care for others. And, my camera is in hand as I continue to write. These are daily tasks I am blessed to do.
May God bless you with the vastness of His love, peace and mercy ~ always,
December 9, 2016 § 1 Comment
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~ Luke 2:13-14
Words have power: They can soothe the cries of an infant; blossom into a poem that touches the face of God; midwife a novel inspiring the reader to personal revelation, and evolve into a mesmerizing stage or screen play. To say I love you, three simple words sincerely expressed, can bring immeasurable joy, expanding the heart of another.
I have pondered over a list of positive words, phrases, some notable quotes (not directly attributed*), others less so, and still others merely my own. I intended this to be an exercise. Once started, I realized this ‘exercise’ was inexhaustible. Still, it was illuminating.
How many positive words do I use in a day? How many negative? How many to encourage another? I hope what follows stimulates you along the same compass of thought. Words become reality for good and for bad. Our world is permeated in most communication venues with negative, indecorous thinking, eventually formed into words: We are numbed to the underlying stealth of violence and fear. Words, cobbled into a sentence that become a paragraph, or a Tweet, once uttered, are capable of destroying a nation, or wounding a child’s heart.
There is positive power, emanating from right-thinking, in words well chosen: Words reflecting our better angels to teach as well as inspire right-action; non-violence; loving and caring for others; giving of ourselves; feeding the poor, and so very much more. What follows barely skims the surface.
Giving, Caring & Sharing
- Give; then give more
- Share and never stop
- Feed the poor
- Let no child, no person, no animal go hungry
- Let no one be without shelter
- Adopt children, or a family
- Adopt a senior citizen
- Adopt animals
- “Live simply so that others may simply live”
- “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”
- Listen well; then listen again for what one is really telling you
- “Stop working for a living; begin working for giving”
Respect & Humility
- “Treat others as you wish to be treated”
- Be humble, for in humility there is great strength
- “We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them.”
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”
- Use right speech
- “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
- “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”
- “What day is it?” asked Pooh.” It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day.” said Pooh.
- “I tell you not to worry about everyday life ~whether you have enough food and drink, or clothes to wear ~ Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work, or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”
- Let go of hate: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
- Fear not…”The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- “Fear tolerated is faith contaminated”
- “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content.”
- Have gratitude always
- “For as we think in our hearts, so we are”
- “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
Forgiveness & Kindness
- Forgive always
- Lay down your anger: “Practice non-violence, not anger; for anger is the enemy of non-violence.”
- Love your enemies: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
- Lose negative thinking for it is a dark, malignant thing: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
- Lose pride; it is the absence of humility and strength…and feeds on anger
- “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
- Love; then love more
- “Imagine all the people living life in peace…I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”
- “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
- “We are not enemies, but friends…Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
- “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love…But the greatest of these is love.”
About The Images
The following images were taken from November 1st through the day of this writing. I take joy in the process of writing, and I am grateful for what the Lord presents for me to photograph. Though many pictures were taken this past little while, only the following created a petit frisson for me.
During a long walk, I found one remaining flower in our woodland. I thought it was an aberration for it was already November. I photographed the first image outdoors; the second one indoors with my micro lens. I was curious about this flower’s inner universe.
Though the trees already lost their leaves of color, I was not disheartened. I adore leafless trees, each with its unique architecture, or bones. When they’re encased in a dreamy fog, a form of ice-crystals in the air, I can sense, for all too brief a moment, the vastness of God’s presence and beauty.
You’ll see a skeleton with a sense of humor, and an image of our woodland trees just before the days of autumnal color faded for winter’s respite. Our great American Flag appears…look closely for it’s there. A pileated woodpecker I named Red stopped by to say hello. There is a boat…well, the picture tells all. Abbey, my constant companion, appears as well. And, the Season of Light (at the top) is simply a crystal candleholder reflecting its prisms on the wall; an everyday occurrence that I finally stopped long enough to admire.
Christmas is a ‘season of light’ and a sacred time to say thank you. For as darkness surrounds us more each day, there is always the Spirit of Light, living in our hearts as well as through delightful crystal prisms. I hope you enjoy the work as it was done with love and gratitude for, and with, my Co-Creator…and you!
Wishing each of you a Merry Christmas and a healthy, peace-filled 2017!
And, may there be peace and goodwill toward all ~
*I gave no attribution to the more notable quotes to test your mettle, but I’ll help and say they include: Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, St. Paul, Ted Sorensen, Winston Churchill, FDR, John Lennon, and the Declaration of Independence.
September 30, 2016 § 1 Comment
A Writer Must Do Her Homework
It began one Friday afternoon in August. August 12 to be precise. I was walking down Warren Street in Hudson, New York towards my favorite teashop, Verdigris Tea & Chocolate.
I have purchased my teas, an obsession of mine, for ten years from this heavenly oasis of tea, chocolate, pastries, cookies, cakes, lattes, espressos, cappuccinos, smoothies, and more. It was one of those moments when an unexpected thought insinuates itself: I knew I must act upon it, and I did.
I had flirted with the idea about waiting table, or possibly making artful cappuccinos and lattes (little did I know the skill involved to do so), for hands-on research and experience regarding a future writing project. I asked Monica, Verdigris’s Hudson store manager, if they needed any part-time help either in Hudson, or in their ‘baby’ Catskill store, for a short while. She said they did! I completed the requisite application in the store, purchased my Scottish Breakfast tea and a half-pound of Mt. Everest, an elegant blend of Assam and Yunnan teas, and headed for home. The following morning I received a call from owner, Kim Bach, inquiring about my availability to begin work. I hasten to say Kim already knew me, though not all of my history, and I sent a resume to accompany the application late Friday afternoon. So, she was not precipitous in her offer: Kim had a need and I had a desire, and we quickly came to an understanding. I was to begin the following week. Whoa! What have I done? I am not able to move at warp speed doing anything these days, least of all as a fly-across-the-floor barista at seventy-three!
The first two weeks I looked like a deer caught in headlights. I performed clumsy pirouettes trying to find a spoon, or just a straw. Then there was repetition after repetition, learning how to achieve crema on the espresso. I will spare you the details on my trying to perfect the lattes and macchiatos. Oddly, I developed a huge obsession to continually clean the espresso machine. Yet, there is skill, precision…though sometimes not, orderliness, great ingredients, a friendly smile, and experience and knowledge that creates the magic emerging from these efforts: macchiatos, matcha lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, abundant teas, and The Chocolate Drinks: Angelina, Hot Hudson, Mocha Magic, and one of our most popular—an oxymoron to be sure: Iced Hot Chocolate. Our chocolate drinks are for everyone, especially devoted chocolate lovers: there is an ample portion of our ganache with a dollop of liquid chocolate included—all ingredients created at Verdigris in Hudson. In my short time, I spilled or splashed chocolate and coffee on almost everything I wore. A fleeting remorse set in realizing I forgot to put an espresso shot into a Chunky Monkey—another chocolate frisson. And, I managed to unintentionally spray Torino caramel syrup over the counter, mirror, a co-worker, my clothes, face and hair, while a customer patiently waited and, gratefully, laughed along with us.
I think the flying scone incident, though, was a rather dazzling performance by moi. I grasped a waxed paper to pick up the scone and with a life force of its own, it flew straight up in the air, and over the counter. I ran, then lunged, like a pro left-fielder and caught it while the customer rendered a small round of applause. I carefully bagged it, and sent him happily on his way. I exhaled a sigh of relief. It was our last scone of the day.
Saturdays are busy. There was one particular Saturday afternoon, though, I thought I would need to call the mounted police for crowd control. Then I remembered this was Catskill, not New York City, and there were no mounted police to my knowledge. I had already made about 18 smoothies that afternoon: Mellow-Yellow, Mixed Berries, Strawberry-Bananas, Iced (Frozen Hot) Chocolate. And then it happened—one half hour before closing. A tall, robust mother with a tall, strapping husband accompanied by two hulk-sized teenage boys walked in all wanting Chunky Monkeys, each with variations on the theme. These would take a little time to do, so while I was blending my heart away in the kitchen, I did not know that six, maybe seven, more people with little ones in tow, also walked in. When I surfaced from the kitchen with first of the four customized Chunky Monkeys, I realized I was in trouble so I stopped and said: Hello. I’m Lee Anne and I’m your only barista for today. I’m fulfilling an order of smoothies and want to help you all. That said, is there anyone here who just needs a cup of coffee or iced tea, which I can do quickly for you? No one answered. My heart sank while my stomach flipped. Okay then. Get comfortable, talk amongst yourselves and get to know one another, decide who is next since I did not see you enter, and I will do my best to tend to each of you. It took a half hour to serve everyone, but they had introduced themselves, we joked, laughed, and, praise God, they were all patient. New friends were made and there were smiles all around.
Labors of Love
Kim created Verdigris Tea & Chocolate in Hudson and celebrates its 10th Anniversary this October. The ‘baby’ Catskill store approaches its 1st Anniversary in December.
I cannot say enough about the quality, variety, and sheer abundance of Verdigris teas: there are black teas, of course: traditional and rare as well as flavored, or not. Verdigris offers oolong, green, white, rooibos, and herbal teas—again there are traditional as well as rare blends: some flavored, others not.
Blooper perils aside, I found deep pleasure in serving people cups-of-joy and poetically fashioned baked goods—all out of the Hudson store by Regina; a specialty chocolate, or bar, by Oliver Kita as well as John Kelly; or, just one dark chocolate marshmallow to provide a small measure of delight for someone’s journey home after a long day.
The Catskill Verdigris Tea & Chocolate venue, small and cozy, presents an ambience reminiscent of a shop snugly tucked in on a side street in Venice. The building is about one hundred and sixteen years old with its original architectural charm: a brick structure, large windows with wide sashes, old wooden floors, and wide door moldings. People smile as they enter, inhaling the diversity of scents, especially if we’ve just baked cookies, scones, made a cappuccino, or poured a freshly brewed pot of fragrant tea, perhaps a white coconut cream—a new found passion for me.
My research time came to an end. I learned more than I thought I would. I worked harder physically than I have since I was a dancer. And, I almost mastered the high-tech cash register! For me, the sum and substance of this experience was the expression of joy as people took their first sip of a tea never savored and witnessing the widening eyes with a kid-in-the-candy-store expression as they walked into the warm, welcoming charm of the ‘baby’ Catskill store seeing the elegant, sumptuous chocolate case display for the first time.
In God’s Time
While I continued writing my novel this summer, I took to my camera as well. I did not believe I had the time. Yet again, I learned that all things are possible in God’s time. I have new images to share with you. They are not related to my Verdigris adventure, but I’ve worked on each through the summer and it is time to release them all as the landscape begins its next cycle of life!
The following is a pastiche of images: cloud formations dwarfed self-indulgent thoughts, creating a sense I could touch the face of God; birds of whimsy tickled a fancy for the sheer honor to gaze upon them; a simple cluster of carnations, appearing to melt into something delectable; another carnation so red its interior reminded me of crimson ruffles; the ordinary and extraordinary steady presence of sunflower petals; woodlands outside my apartment present a mysterious fog separating, hovering, and exposing the first bright orange leaves of autumn; small, vibrant yellow flowers peek out from under long blue-green fronds; a rabbit in early morning of which we had a bumper crop this year, and an etherial morning fog rising off our grand Hudson River as the sun begins ascent. I am blessed to be able to observe, study, and capture these fruits of Creation. Enjoy with my blessing and that of my Co-Creator, for nothing would have been accomplished without Him.
May our Lord richly bless and keep each of you in His strong, loving care ….
June 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.’ ~ Isaiah 55:12
ONE EARLY MORNING IN MAY
It is four-thirty in the morning. My windows are open due to an unseasonable heat wave. While darkness remains, the air is cool and still: not a leaf flutters. Yet the birds have begun their morning songs-of-praise. This is a sacred hour for me, regardless of the season.
I make a mug of freshly brewed Scottish breakfast tea, stack my Bible and related reading next to me, and begin to dig into the day’s devotionals, prayers, and Scripture. Abbey, my cat, is wide-eyed and wants to play. However, with a reluctant resignation she jumps onto my chair and settles next to me for a snooze. The readings are oft times ‘rabbit runs’: a back-and-forth flip between Old and New Testaments with study notes suggesting further support, or amplification of context, a verse, even one word. For me, it is not merely slamming through a reading session: I have an unquenchable thirst to understand more deeply; to fill myself with His Word.
Even so, thoughts of Patricia weave their way into the threads of my study, which finally unravel my concentration. I give in to what is on my heart. Patricia was my next-door neighbor for the past three years in the apartment building in which I live. She now lies in a nursing home in Albany, New York. Though acutely aware of her surroundings, hearing everything, Patricia is unable to move: She is trapped in her body from a massive stroke. She can speak but with great effort, and then only one whispered word at a time. On rare occasions she utters a short, audible phrase. She appears to be blind, though no one confirms this. Her eyes are closed most of the time for it hurts her to keep them open. When she does look at me her eyes no longer possess light; a light that once gleamed with warmth and humor. Though the nursing home is not a hospice, Patricia has entered into end-of-care-living.
During my recent visit, Patricia agreed to my wheeling her into the lush, sculpted gardens surrounding the home. It was a seventy-degree day with breeze enough to gently lift her hair, now soft and white as goose down feathers. She slumps to one side in her chair; the side most affected by the stroke. I was told she eats very little, but some of what she consumes dribbles out of the left corner of her mouth. I clean her as it happens. Once we were settled in full shade, I described the grounds: fully leafed trees following a cold, wet spring; colorful annuals and the scent of freshly dug earth; and the abundant new-green-of-spring seemingly everywhere the eye could see. Patricia took my hand with her barely functional right arm, folding her cool fingers around it. I stroked her forehead, realizing she needed gentle, loving touch; not just the pro forma, though well-meaning, handling of the ministering nurses and aides.
Patricia loves her Bible, so I read selected verses to her while small rivulets of tears made their pilgrimage down her beautiful, smooth-skinned face. I asked if she wanted me to stop, and she whispered, no. I flipped to Isaiah and read the above verse, ending with … and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. She smiled and opened her eyes, saying, happy trees! I replied, yes, they are happy trees.
Patricia maintains a strong will to live. I bore witness for three years to her ‘fierce grace,’ refusing to relinquish independence as several mini-strokes claimed her body. Yet, I also observed decline in her physical strength and mental acuity. Now, there is no prognosis for a meaningful recovery — or so says the conventional, human wisdom.
Wheeling her back to her room, I commented that I forgot my camera to take photographs of the gardens. She looked straight into my eyes with an opaque stare and said, take them at our home in Athens. Take ten.
What was most noticeable to me during this visit was that something within Patricia had changed. It appeared she lost her ferocity to ‘be,’ hence, her hope. When we settled her into bed, she articulated a fully audible sentence that took my breath away: I am still here, but people treat me as if I’m dead. Then she slipped into another place and time, murmuring words and phrases I no longer understood. I sensed Patricia was struggling for inner resolve and hope. So many, myself included, have prayed she goes to the Lord soon. But, she endures at the time of this writing with a strong heart, healthy lungs, keen hearing as well as awareness. No! We should pray for healing: a healing that will give days or hours or a month or more to say goodbye with gratitude and clarity; set the outstanding questions of her affairs in order; see and speak with her sons as well as her friends; and to read, contemplate, and pray as she did for the past three years, to prepare for her final journey.
THE PHOTOS … THOUGH NOT QUITE ‘TEN’
I confess I do not know what the number ‘ten’ means to Patricia, but I kept my promise concerning the photographs. Not ten as requested, but enough. At least I will be able to tell her that I did as she wished. These images are all from the property that surrounds our apartment building: birds, trees, flowers, et al.
A LIFE PURPOSE?
Given last month’s Journal post, Even A Lioness Dies, and now this month concerning Patricia, you might think I am spending my life in hospices. Yes and no. I confess I have never been a wholly selfless being. I do feel a strong tug to do something more within these environments — these places for the infirm, sick, and dying. What or how or when, I do not know. Fear of disease, the ‘surprise of pain,’ and the process of dying, not death itself, prevails even among those strong in faith. One’s presence to listen, hold a hand, read, stroke a forehead, and pray, can help palliate these fears. Yet, there is so much more to loving these dear people: It involves their souls, their spirits, sharing the Truth of God, and helping them die into faith. Yes!, die into eternal life with Jesus. So, here I am with a tug, perhaps a true calling, I could not conceive of for myself — though it is what God has given me to do for now. Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your Truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation: on You I wait all the day.” (Psalm 25: 4-5).
‘CONFESSING’ A PROMISE FOR PATRICIA
As my wandering thoughts found focus in my studies once again, I came upon two scriptures, two of many Promises of God (no accident I am sure), since the revelation of ‘healing’ visited my heart: Isaiah 53:4-5 and Psalm 103:2-3, both harbingers of the Great Physician’s Promises to heal. The Bible tells us that Death and Life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). The Word also tells us to “speak to the mountain about sickness, disease, poverty, confusion, and more ” — a continual confessing of God’s promises until it leaves. What we say becomes a part of our lives, positive or negative.
Patricia, as intercessor in prayer, I confess these Promises of healing from God’s Word for you. His Grace will fill you and touch every bone, cell, and molecule in your body, mind, heart, and spirit. You will have peace within. You will have fluid movement throughout your body. You will speak with ease and clarity. Your eyes will see fully and shine with His living, loving Light within once again. These, His promises, I claim for you:
4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him. And by His stripes Patricia is healed.
Psalm 103: 2-3
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives Patricia’s iniquities, Who heals all her diseases.
According to His promises, His sacred words will manifest in your behalf. In Jesus’ name I pray. His Will be done … Amen!
Have a glorious, healthy, peace-filled summer! I will return when the autumnal extravaganza begins. In the next little while, I will be writing my book full time, ministering to Patricia, and others God may send my way, and most important, loving Jesus, following His Way, Truth, and Life as best I can.
May our Lord richly bless and keep each of you, especially the infirm, sick and dying, in His strong, loving care ….
May 5, 2016 § 4 Comments
“When she* shall die, take her and cut her out in little stars, and she will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
~ William Shakespeare, ‘Romeo and Juliet’
My dear friend, Linda Ruth Fisher, died on April 20th. Linda’s was a large life well lived. She was a robust woman with a head of enviable thick, wavy silver hair. I think most who knew her would say it was Linda’s blue eyes, twinkling brighter than sapphires that first caught peoples’ attention when meeting her.
REALITIES ~ BEAUTIFUL AND SAD
Linda’s cancer began two years ago. It was then we became closer friends. Linda wanted to make something happen for our sisters and brothers with disabilities. They are challenged daily by bias, ridicule, and hardened bureaucratic hearts and systems (most, but not all). Disabled people seek their basic civil rights: to be treated with dignity, equality, independence, and respect — no more, no less than those perceived to be ‘normal.’
Linda envisioned an artistic initiative to bring more attention to this civil rights issue in which she firmly believed I could guide the participants — all of whom were disabled to varying degrees. She fought hard, creating a ‘work around’ the State Council on the Arts grant for me to teach this program: A photojournalism class comprised of eight participants at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV) — Command Central for those who are disabled in the vast Hudson Valley Region of New York State. The ILCHV and Linda did outstanding work on the grant and obtained approval! We celebrated, and then the participants and I began our work. The experience and stories of those who courageously wrote about living with disabilities are on this site: “But remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.“
That was two years ago. This April, within a span of a day or two, Linda went from home care, to the ER at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, and then into St. Peter’s Hospice Inn. I received a text from her sister, Beth, early morning on April 19 saying, it’s a matter of hours, or a day. Come soon.
Once through the hospital maze and in the hospice, it was quiet: no doctors, nor noisy machines, but only caring, attentive nurses. I briefly shook hands with Beth who graciously proffered that I take my time alone with Linda. I stood outside the door thinking of the last time I saw her. It was at my 72nd birthday lunch, almost a year ago. Linda entered the restaurant with Janet, her companion and caregiver throughout the two-year saga. She was already a little thinner, but still vibrant in both body and spirit. Linda wore a hat for the last chemo treatment had taken her beautiful hair. But oh my, Linda’s blue eyes sparkled and danced with her delight in life! I knew I would hold on to that memory, but the moment arrived for me to say goodbye.
I gently pushed the door open and found myself in a softly lit room with upholstered furniture for those who visited. One-third, or less, of Linda’s once-Rubenesque body lay on the bed surrounded by pillows for comfort. She was receiving oxygen. This was not life saving; without it she would suffocate in a painful death. Though sedated, Linda was not in discomfort. Her breathing was a bit rapid: I could not help but be mindful of each exhaled breath.
I sat in the chair closest to her bedside. I gazed at a shadow of a woman, once a great lioness, whose door-to-her-heart was always open to anyone who knocked. I discovered honor, not fear nor grief, in being with Linda during these last hours of her life. I took her left hand, stroked her forehead, and said:
Linda, it’s Lee Anne. I am here darling. I know you can’t speak, but you can hear. I love you. Your presence in my life will now take up residency in my heart through many fond memories. You were so generously supportive of me as a person, artist, and writer. How can I ever give back what you gave to me?
My dearest Linda, you say you are not a woman of faith, though your life’s work contradicts that statement. You strived and succeeded in supporting the oppressed politically and with your own funds; you fought for civil rights wherever, whenever needed. Your home was open to anyone who required help.
Well, my dear, I am all about faith: one we delightfully, and respectfully, debated during one of our dinners. But, in reverence for my Lord and love for you, I need to do something. I hope not to offend you, Janet, and your family. I am going to read the Twenty-Third Psalm. I know you know it. If you object, just push my hand away and I will stop. I’ve already seen you use it, perhaps reacting to a stimulus known only to you at this point. Okay, since you’ve squeezed my hand and not let go, I’m taking that as a ‘yes.’
I believe the work we did with the ILCHV marked a shift in my approach and purpose for my artwork. I know you are saying that it was me; I did it, etc. No. It was not I; it was the Lord guiding me. The truth is I was never able, or inclined, to give of myself that way; the complete surrender to another’s need. I confess this to you now. Yet, something happened in that teaching process: I learned how little I knew about the important matters in life as well as facing the stark reality that my own heart was hardened. I was humbled, right-sized by the bravery of the participants, their work, and the results. Thank you, dear Linda, for fighting for them — and for me.
My dear, there is much more, but it is time for me to say goodbye. I see the corners of your mouth barely turned up in a smile. So, I believe our walk through some shared memories have pleased you. Know how much you are loved.
I took one long last look at Linda, kissed her forehead, and left the room. I walked around the hospice for a short while, noting those in rooms whose occupants were restless and alone; others openly grieving in the lounge areas; still more people who were laughing, probably over a story that was told many times at Thanksgiving dinners about the person in the room preparing to leave this life. My heart urged me to pray for each of them, but not knowing their beliefs I could not.
These are some of Linda’s favorite images. She loved the flowers together with “Blue Ridge Mountain Spring,” and “Sky.” I present this pastiche of painterly photographs to celebrate Linda’s life with beauty and an expansive love that defies all boundaries on earth and in heaven.
I was compelled during the drive home to finally give voice to my unuttered prayer in the hospice: Father God, I pray that in all hospices and hospitals each person is anointed with your tender, merciful Grace: the sick and dying, doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies, chaplains, volunteers, families, friends, and mourners. May they be lifted up and accept Jesus in their hearts, if they haven’t already, allowing Him to wrap them in His Eternal Love, comforting arms, and most assuredly in His peace and rest. I pray in Your Son’s name. Amen.
Once home, I randomly opened my Bible. I was not seeking anything in particular, or so I presumed. However, I landed at Psalm 103:15-17, and the reading of it brought me to the first tears of the day.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows and we are gone — as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever.
*I have taken poetic license and replaced “he” with “she.” I hope The Bard of Avon forgives my puckishness in this instance.