making memories

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As I perused the rich offerings of my fellow bloggers yesterday, I chanced upon a request on JPC Allen Writes to consider my favorite Christmas song as a writing prompt.

My brain spent a brief moment racing through its catalog of Christmas carols. Just seconds passed before a cascade of rich memories began to tumble out – so I sort of had to write.

The thing is that I played piano.

As a kid, I developed quite a repertoire of Christmas carols. I continued learning them, newer and somewhat more complex arrangements, until young adulthood.

So, when family and friends gathered on Christmas eve, I was ready. Never mind that food, alcohol, and interpersonal dynamics left little attention span for my efforts at the piano.

With no urging from anyone, I donned my felt reindeer antlers, took my seat at the piano, and began to play. Eventually, it clicked.

Two or three pieces always briefly caught everyone’s fancy, whether to sing along, or with which to get very silly.

Everyone could be tempted to join in for “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night,” since we all knew the words. I particularly loved playing “Joy to the World,” “Let It Snow,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I liked the peppy, fun songs more than the somber, slow ones.

Everyone would gather around me and the piano so they could see the music and the words. Their voices filled the air. They easily and loudly carried on even if I made a brief stumble on the keys.

Things quickly fell apart, however, when folks introduced alternate lyrics for “We Three Kings” (you know, the ones involving a baffling rubber cigar), which everyone found hysterically funny.

Even worse, it was never long before my older sister would find it quite hilarious to stand directly behind me as I played, with her fingers poised just above my shoulders. She would wait for me to make a mistake, then make a loud and giggling production of grabbing my shoulders and tickling me. It made me so apprehensive that I was bound to make a mistake.

This little game usually marked the end of my Christmas carol playing for the day – no doubt suiting her intent.

As we all got a little older, I particularly enjoyed playing tunes like “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” and “Silver Bells.”

“Sleigh Ride,” though, ultimately became the family favorite. For some reason, everyone got so they demanded the “Sleigh Ride” song with all its ring-ting-tingling, and rollicked their way through it.

Eventually and wonderfully, my own children were among the voices enjoying the fun.

So, in truth, I don’t have a favorite Christmas carol. I simply cherish them all – at least the ones I can play on the piano – for the joyful memories they helped to create. They also serve as a happy reminder to seize the moment, be connected, and make new ones

answers

 

veru12_2_18I was searching.

I was exhausted and frayed and a little frantic.

I thought if I could just get moving, I could move toward some kind of answer, something to mollify at any rate, a little peace.

I was already cold and tired. I could not bear the thought of more cold.

I pulled on my coat anyway. I practically fled, pulling on my gloves as I went.

I charged, desperate for answers. I kept walking and walking, through my fatigue, searching, frenetic.

Nothing was working. Everything was dysfunctional.

No answers.

So I asked.

As I barrelled along in the cold, I spoke out loud.

I can’t see them, but I know they are there, somehow.

They are there. Aren’t they?

I walked and I cried and I argued and I pled for help, and finally I sang.

It was the chant I learned oh so many years ago. I sang the chant as I rushed through the messy, snowed-up sidewalks. I could just begin to sense the edges of peace.

And then, suddenly, there it was.

The one voice in all this universe from whom I needed to hear right then.

And the dam loosed, not answers, but the warmth and the peace to find them.

Everything is a mystery, and nothing is a mystery.

a different path

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After some pretty frigid temps, there’s been a nice respite in the weather. It felt good to get out on the city park trails which wind along next to the river. Didn’t even wear a hat.

In the summer, the trails are pretty busy, but right now they’re basically deserted. It’s a little eerie.

Still, I was able to hear birds singing, and see them flitting among the brush. Spotted two squirrels practically cuddled up on a branch together. Ducks were cavorting in the river, splashing, and riding the current.

At one spot, the train tracks run across the trail. What do you know, a train came. I stood there close enough to feel the rumble under my feet.

As I crossed through the abandoned park expanse, I saw a man approaching. As he got nearer, I could see that he was carrying something in one hand, but kind of shielding it from view. It made me uncomfortable. As we passed, I looked back. I could clearly see that what he was carrying was a large wooden club.

veru11_25_18bI wondered if the city trails are more dangerous than I know. Or if this is just a man who is a little paranoid. Either way, I think carrying something like that actually does make the city trails more dangerous, and it serves to make one a little paranoid, too. Certainly bothered me.

That brief, uneventful encounter alters things. Regardless of my intentions, I realize I already feel less inclined to return to the trails for a run, despite the fact that I truly love the access to nature there. It makes me mad that on a perfectly pleasant day, people feel compelled to arm themselves to be out in it. 

I am sad for our loss of community, for the distrust and fear with which everyone lives now. It is time to find our way back – to find connection and purpose and joy in our shared experience on this earth instead of the manufactured violence and separation that greedy capitalism fuels.

I believe it is possible, too, but it takes vision, intention, and personal effort to move to recover true and functional community. It won’t come from the top. It takes each one of us to make it happen. It takes courage, too, at the very least, to choose a different path than the one we’re shown and herded along.

The birds and the squirrels and the ducks – they’re on to something. Beautiful, peaceful coexistence within nature. Why wouldn’t we?

seeking truth

veru11_14_18aThe physicist Werner Heisenberg noted that ‘the act of observing changes the thing observed.’ This is oh so true when it comes to government and corporate activities.

It’s extremely important to watch what our government and corporations are doing. The very act of watching them affects their behaviors, which always and necessarily have an effect on the people.

As we all know, even when we are watching them, governments and corporations do unpopular, dishonest, damaging, and illegal things. If we stop watching, the sky’s the limit – and that won’t work in favor of the people.

The press is essential in our efforts towards a free country.

Yes, media corporations bring bias from various angles to the process. That means we need more voices, not fewer. It also means that we, the people, have a responsibility to be educated, discerning readers and citizens who support good, truth-seeking reporting. Independent media is more important than ever in our efforts to seek truth.

The President and members of his administration have led a lengthy and ongoing campaign to besmirch and cripple the press. Interestingly, the constant cries of “fake news” come from folks absolutely depending on the coverage of the alternative facts, outright lies, even doctored videos, deliberately and consistently generated.

This comes after the previous administration which reached new heights in threatening, disparaging, and silencing truth tellers. We have already been long and thoroughly coached to hold truth tellers in contempt – even when it has obviously served us in important and positive ways.

We should all be concerned when government/corporate powers so obviously and openly seize, control, and distort the messaging, and brazenly silence those attempting to report the truth of their activities.

As citizens, neighbors, parents, we have a responsibility in this. We must support those attempting to seek and report on the truth. We must demand relevant information. We must educate ourselves, and think critically about what we learn. It does not do to depend one on source for information.

It’s a matter of paying attention to what matters, and holding people accountable. We all have a part to play in seeking and defending the truth for the purposes of creating a just and peaceful society and to safeguard our ever more imperiled world.

hopeful

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I head out into a very grey, cold morning. At the start, I’m feeling kind of alert and crisp and on. I make myself go a different way, just to mix things up.

Patches of dark on the pavement make me nervous. I mince along carefully, stopping and testing a few times to see if it’s ice or what. Because it’s all over the place. Never quite convinced, I spend the entire run mincing.

Everything’s quiet. Hardly any traffic. I watch another pair of runners leave me in the dust. That’s okay.

Up a long boulevard with bigger houses, silence. I see a man ahead, also in the road, walking in my direction. I skirt huge piles of icy leaves.

As I near the man, I begin to hear him. He looks at me angrily, daring me, and keeps on walking and talking loudly to the air.

I turn the corner.

Head down another silent street. Notice the smashed, frozen pumpkins. The bicycles sitting forlornly out in the cold. The rake left in the yard amongst the unraked leaves. Various yard decorations, straggling campaign signs, and lawn chairs sit forgotten and sad in this cold.

The flurries pick up, and gently sting my face.

Car comes along, and I swing up onto the sidewalk. A man approaches on a bicycle and makes no room and no comment. I move out of his way.

I notice I am slow this morning. I check my pace, and sure enough, even for me, I am slow.

That’s pretty slow.

I decide to be okay today with being slow. Part of it, I realize, is because of my very careful steps, wary of ice and the many obstructions along my path.

It’s also this world I am traversing, strange and frozen this morning. It feels lost and hostile.

In this moment, I am a reluctant traveler. Still, I am out there, making my way.

I pass a person walking, all bundled up, face hidden underneath a hat and scarf. I smile and raise my hand in a gesture of hello.

For just a moment, I see their eyes. They silently raise their hand in recognition.

I take a breath, noticing it, and head for home.

kindnesses

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World Kindness Day is coming up on Tuesday, November 13. While this is a day bringing focus to various initiatives around the world, it can also be a day to give focus in one’s personal life.

Hopefully, we all try to bring kindness into the world each day. There are so many little and painless ways to do that. And generally, whatever small kindness we bring delivers back to us. I know that those times when I have found a way to be helpful to someone, whether a stranger or a loved one, it makes me happy.

During a rambling conversation with a new acquaintance on this topic, it was interesting to see how readily certain moments of kindness stood out in memory – some going back years.

I could see how meaningful it had been for my acquaintance to help a woman stranded in the cold with her three children a few years ago. They were locked out of their car, late at night, far from home, and with little money. He got them warmed up in his own vehicle while he gained access for them to their own car. He smiled but shivered when he remembered how long it took him to warm himself up after finally returning home. It was, however, a night that remained happily in his memory with all the details.

These kinds of memories also included those times we were on the receiving end of another’s goodness.

Like the time some years ago when I was stuck on a roadside in the middle of nowhere. I had pulled off the side of a lonely country road to get a picture. When I hopped back in my car, I discovered that one of my tires had conveniently found a niche in the turf that held my vehicle trapped. I pushed and pushed and worked the problem to no avail.

Just as I was getting ready to start walking, a pickup truck came along, and then another one. The two knew each other. They got out, and with many smiles and much friendly laughter, pushed and pulled my car out of its predicament.

What a beautiful memory that is for me. It was a wonderful kindness in the moment, but it is a gift that keeps on giving. It brings a smile to my face even now.

Of course, many kindnesses are much simpler: a thoughtful word or a smile, or a simple gesture. There are so many opportunities every day for these small but essential expressions of our care for each other. And the impact of such kindnesses may be bigger than we know.

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It’s also fun to be intentional about it, figuring out ways to bring a moment of kindness very deliberately, perhaps randomly, into the world. 

I remember when I discovered my first painted rock on a trail in Florida (the lady bug in the photo). I had no idea why it was there, but it presented a happy little surprise that changed my day.

Maybe it’s knitting hats for those in need of warmth, or donating to a food pantry, or using some elbow grease on a local project. Who knows?

It’s something I am thinking about today: noticing the spontaneous opportunities for kindness that present themselves, and the ways I use my personal gifts in deliberate fashion to brighten someone else’s day. 

Be kind! You know it’s a beautiful thing. 🙂

circles

veru11_8_18bI made my first penny rug about 2006. This was a piece of black wool felt cut into a circle, maybe 8 inches in diameter. On to it, I blanket-stitched smaller circles in a variety of colors, in a circle. The blanket-stitching was purposely very visible in black thread atop the bright colors.

This penny rug was the first of many, many penny rugs I made. They are called rugs, but they are usually decorative table mats or wallhangings. Each one was entirely hand-cut and hand-stitched, all by my own design. They were all very colorful, and often created in a family of colors – say, blues or browns.

I was inspired to make the first penny rug after a trip to Indiana, during which I toured a historic home. It contained many original furnishings. Among them was an actual small floor rug, created penny-style, very faded and worn. I had never seen one before, and I have never seen another quite like it. I could not get it out of my mind.

I came home and did a little research, discovering that penny rugs were a Civil War era phenomenon. Old wool clothing and blankets were repurposed to create the rugs. The penny part came in supposedly as pennies were sometimes inserted to weight the rug. I’m not buying that part of the story. If you’re repurposing your old wool clothing, you’re pinching those pennies, too. Besides, wool lays down all by itself just fine.

A more likely explanation is that pennies could have been used to trace the smallest circles.

I’m not sure I buy any of the explanations I’ve read. No matter. For whatever reason, I became driven to make these things (and still struggle with the urge, complicated now by my vegan views!)

veru11_8_18aThrough the years, as I labored over these creations, I’ve given much thought to their design and materials. It’s all very simple stuff, really. Mostly solid colors and circles. Mostly carefully chosen, repurposed textiles. That’s pretty much what you’re working with most of the time.

But the more I worked on these things, the more symbolic they became to me. In later years, I titled them. I gave much thought to what the circles represented, how they related to each other, and the space around them. I carefully considered textures, stitches, colors, and the repurposed history of the textiles.

In the end, it became obvious to me that they comprised a metaphor for individuals and communities, a subject very dear to me. Each circle was like a person, and there it was fixed in place in a community of other circles – a panoply of colors that worked whether they were randomly placed or carefully selected by tone. Together, they all danced.

And then within the array of circles, that original circle was overlaid by two or three other, smaller circles, a small unit of its own, a tribe or a family, if you will, within the larger community – creating its own history.

I suppose it seems silly to imbue this much meaning onto my lowly craft, but, it is, in fact, there when I look at, or make one of my creations. There are always deeper significant nuances to each particular work, as well.

The very lone circle itself – it is both finite and infinite, isn’t it? Like each of us.

building community

veru10_31_18bAs difficult as it is to watch the Squirrel Hill neighborhood come together in their grief, it also reminds us of what community means, and of the power of community.

Protestors in Pittsburgh carried signs with messages like, “We are all neighbors,” “Love not hate,” “Words matter.”

In their grief, these residents turned out to shun the divisive, hateful acts and messaging of which we have all had enough. They shunned the President’s visit as an act serving to co-opt the grieving into a photo op – a visit squeezed in between political rallies that have all too often been forums for negative messaging. (One imagines he likely would have been vilified for not visiting, too, specifically in the context of that messaging.)

It is a beautiful thing to see people pull together to share their difficulties, and to try the change the world for the better. It is beautiful to see living, breathing community – where each unique individual becomes a meaningful part of the whole.

veru10_31_18In between sad moments such as these, though, it seems as if community has largely gone missing – and we all suffer for it.

Fact is, every single one of us has been commodified by an increasingly oppressive system, and that the price on our employment, daily activities, speech, purchasing, opinions, dreams, education, recreation, nourishment, health or the lack of it, old age – stands between us and our neighbors. It keeps our heads down, eyes averted, words censored. It keeps us too busy, too worried, and to divided to join hands and hearts in true community.

I see it every day in the folks I pass as I run or walk. I am always astonished and saddened by the many good people who never see me smiling at them, who grimly choose not to respond to my greeting.

But the spark is there. We’re humans, and the spark is always there. The strife we are suffering with right now has its origins in the deliberate damping of that spark.

Let’s shield and fan that little spark until it glows and burns brightly.

As Rabbi Jeffrey Myers urged, “Speak words of love, speak words of decency and respect.”

If we comport ourselves in keeping with that very simple message, we will see our times change.

It is a question for each one of us to consider – how to truly show up, meet our neighbors, and build positive, caring communities. Thoughts?

simply connected

veru10_22_18.jpgOut the blue, an old friend calls after many months. It’s as if a lifetime happened in the interim. There’s not much bother catching up, because who can explain all that? And does it matter?

Not really. Because what matters is the connection, the recognition of another soul that is still somehow kindred despite time and distance and perspectives.

Thank you, kind friend, for reminding me. The experiences we shared, our reflections then and now, burbled right back up to the surface. The simple recollections of our shared past are like little bells sounding a joyful alarm.

That was you. That was me.

That is you. That is me. Still. How easily time slips through our hands but look at the amazing constants! 

And thank you, too, for acknowledging our differences – we certainly had them then and still do now. Somehow, we transcend them.

After all, even in our differences, we ultimately share the same concerns.

Don’t we all?