Doorknobs

 

betting on religion, choosing faith when dying,

When I ring the bell Denise has to pull her three dogs away from the door to let me in. We’re at an awkward juncture. She’s actually my husband’s friend but I’m here alone. I come bearing gifts although she is more comfortable giving.

“I’m glad you called,” she says over the barking. “It gave me the first reason to get dressed in a week.”

“I hear PJs are a fashion statement,” I say.

She pulls the largest dog off my leg. Her face is puffy and she’s breathing heavily from the exertion.

“He’s not bothering me at all,” I protest. “Maybe he’s trying to protect you from my cooking. Let me just put this stuff away.”

She follows me to the kitchen. She is older and taller, yet around her I feel as if I lead. Her counter is full of supplements with names that sound like a bottled meadow —sorrel, motherwort, red clover. When I put down the dishes she pulls back lids and sniffs the contents deeply. She wants to hear about each one.

“Everything smells so good,” she says. “Mark tells me your recipes are never the same twice. What’s in this pan?”

“Oh, it’s just some curry. Brown basmati rice with cauliflower, peas, paneer, onions, spinach, raisins, almonds—you want me to go on? I just keep adding things till it seems done,” I laugh. “Drives the kids nuts. They long for boxed macaroni and cheese like everyone else makes.”

She scoops up a fingerful and slides it in her mouth. Her eyes briefly fill with tears. “This tastes like love.”

I’ve never heard Denise speak this way. Her shtick is sharp humor and witty complaints. She and her husband Greg have a somewhat difficult relationship, but they both find pleasure in spending. Greg lavishes money on cars. Denise adores buying riding tack, clothes, and gifts. We have been the recipients of her largess many times. She not only gives lavishly, she also offers her time. The week we moved to our new home, she and Greg helped with the last U-haul load, took the truck back, and surprised us by cleaning our empty house so we wouldn’t have to return the next day. It must have taken them hours.

No matter how kind her actions, Denise is uncomfortable being thanked. Brusque even. Usually she goes right on complaining about her job, her expenses, her marriage, even her beloved horse. With four kids and precarious finances, I’m perpetually behind when it comes to reciprocating. Sometimes I send along produce from our garden or homemade goods when my husband Mark meets Denise and Greg for their weekly breakfast.

Today she shows me things she has ordered online, some still unopened. At least a dozen hats, several specially made for cancer patients. When her dogs start to play with the boxes, she ushers them out to the back yard.

“Let’s go sit outside,” I venture. “It’s a beautiful day.”

“The landscaping is a mess,” she says, “I don’t even want to look at it.”

“Have you been out much at all since you started treatment? There’s something to be said for the restorative power of nature.”

“Not in this yard.”

Birdsong, sunshine, growing things, and fresh air all wait right beyond her patio doors. It is difficult to imagine healing in her house. The curtains are closed. Every surface is congested. Couches and chairs are crowded with pillows. The walls are jammed with prints, tables are laden with objects, bags with new purchases are stacked against the walls. But she wants to stay inside.

I notice piles of new books. I tell her they are the same things I like to read; spiritual examinations across many cultures and faiths. Denise says she has read a few and is drawn to their open-hearted messages, but she is afraid.

I’m not sure what she means.

“I hope there’s some kind of eternity,” she says with sudden candor, “but how do I know which religion will get me there? I can’t just suddenly decide to be a Baptist or a Buddhist and  …  believe.”

“I think there are truths bigger than anything religions squabble over.” I say.

“True, but now isn’t the time for me to piss off God,” she says dryly. Then adds, “If there is a God.”

I nod, “I’ve gotten hung up on the ‘G’ word too.”

“Well I started going to a church. I just picked one. I figure it’s like an insurance policy,” she says. “That way if there’s life after death, maybe I’m in.”

We sit on the couch crossed-legged and talk about approaching faith as a stranger might visit a new land, eyes open for wonders. Denise keeps the tone light but her anxiety hangs right on the surface until she finds a familiar groove and gets back to complaining about her husband. Greg only cares about his cars, Greg wants her to go back to work, Greg doesn’t understand.

Soon she looks tired. We say our goodbyes and I give her an awkward hug. My intention was to be fully in that room with her, sending love from my heart to hers like a soothing balm, yet as I walk out to my car I feel an ache somewhere in my chest. I realize her quandaries with religion grieve her almost much as her cancer does.

~

A few months after that visit, complications from her final round of chemo leave Denise in a hospital room too sick return home. The doctor tells her she needs to go directly to hospice care. Mark and I sit near her bed.

Greg says from farther back in the room, “Yeah, but how expensive is that?”

“You and your wife both have health insurance.” the doctor replies. “There shouldn’t be significant extra costs.”

“There have been a lot of costs with this whole thing,” he says, waving his hand at the hospital bed, intravenous lines, and monitors. Mark stands and walks Greg out of the room so Denise can talk to the doctor. A month later she waits until Greg goes on an errand, then dies with Mark at the side of her bed.

~

Greg has a beautiful photograph of Denise posing with her horse and dogs printed for the funeral program. I see he does understand what was important to her. When the new minister she chose gives the eulogy it’s clear he didn’t know her at all. As a bagpiper walks over the hills at the close of her memorial service, I pray that Denise has found a more loving Beyond than she ever imagined.

A few nights later I have a dream that seems to go on and on. In it I am surrounded by doorknobs. I examine them with fascination. Faceted crystal doorknobs cut in geometric perfection, each reflecting different shapes and colors. Polished wooden doorknobs darkened with age. Intricately patterned cloisonné knobs rich in lapis, green, and violet. Simple white porcelain doorknobs mapped with tiny cracks.

I understand, while still asleep, that I’m dreaming. It occurs to me to look up from this vast field of doorknobs. There I see a door. It’s huge and gleams with holy light.

Denise is nearby, more vibrant and confident than I’ve ever seen her in life. She’s looking with amusement at the array of doorknobs.

“The doorknob we choose doesn’t matter,” she says. “Each. One. Opens. The. Door.”

~

This is her final gift. Once again, I can’t reciprocate. Unless, I realize, I share her story with others.

 

Originally published by First Day Press.

 

 

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Making Whole

reconnecting,

The garment is worn out. There are only a few stalwart threads stretched across, warp without woof, and its fibers are surely too frazzled to hold up.

A reasonable person would have tossed it out or torn it into rags. But here I am, strangely peaceful as I thread the needle hoping to weave these strands back into a whole fabric.

Before drawing my stitches across the expanse I realize its boundaries must be reinforced. I sew a merry line around the edge, reinforce it with another line of stitching and then another. The jagged edge looks a bit like the borders around a state or map of a continent. Sewing is a contemplative endeavor and this small task gets me thinking.

I’ve never been great at establishing boundaries. By the time I was nine years old I read every newspaper and magazine that entered our house. My parents cancelled news magazine subscriptions because my childish reaction to what I saw on those pages was too raw. I still read about suffering in the morning newspaper. I still asked questions about  war, poverty, prejudice, cruelty, and greed — unsatisfied with answers like “God’s ways are mysterious.” I wanted to understand how grown-ups could let these things happen, how they couldn’t see. I wanted to understand all the way down to the mystery itself.

As a much smaller child I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was too large to describe, but I’ll try. In it could see life on Earth from a vantage point far above. Cars hurried along on roads, people lived in closed-off rectangles, everyone urged onward by a desperation that — from my dream vantage point — was tragic and absurd. They couldn’t hear me but I wanted to shout “It’s not real!” I’d wake up nearly gasping with horror.

Slowly I’d muster up the courage to run through the dark hallway to my parent’s room. My mother slept through any disturbance. Only my father would wake. He’d get up quietly, take me to the bathroom, and tuck me back into bed. On the nights when my misery wouldn’t go away, I’d brave that dark hallway again and my dad would let me sleep between them. Their bodies, heavy with sleep, helped to calm me.

Sometimes my father would try to parse the dream by asking me about it. I’d cry, “Everybody thinks it’s real, but it’s not.” And he’d try to explain it away, the way he did with my zoo dream, where animals burst from their cages to live behind garages and in back yards —- sadly unable to get back to their real homes. “Their cages are strong,” he’d say. “And they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” His words didn’t help. His presence did.

I’ve been a grown-up for a long time now. I spend too much time rushing around in my car and busy in my own rectangle as if this is what’s important, no greater  perspective in sight.

But my task right now is to stitch across the threads. Draw what’s pulled apart back together. Appreciate the needle’s strength and the thread’s purpose. Imagine it can be made a whole fabric. In a larger sense, there’s no other choice.

beyond boundaries

April’s Energy Fingerprint

April tragedy, energy fingerprint, life energy,

image: andrewpoison.deviantart.com

April is a month for blooms unfurling and songbirds hatching. A month when gray skies turn blue. It’s a changeable month that promises new life.

Or not. A friend recently asked, “What is it about mid-April that brings so much tragedy?” She offered plenty of evidence. Even looking at tragedy specifically affecting the U.S., there’s a lot of it.

April 15

– Abraham Lincoln assassinated

– Titanic sank

– Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history)

-Boston Marathon bombing

April 16

– VA Tech shooting

April 17

-USS Iowa Explosion

-West Fertilizer Plant explosion

April 18

– 1906 earthquake in San Francisco

-US Embassy bombing in Lebanon

April 19

– Lethal end of the Branch Davidian standoff

– Oklahoma City bombing

April 20

– Columbine school shooting

– Deepwater Horizon explosion

Horrific events, every one. It’s entirely natural that our attention is drawn to such disasters, especially as they’re happening. Way back in prehistory, those who paid close attention when others were injured or killed were more likely to avoid the same fate. Their bodies and minds were primed with vividly awful but useful information, helping them to survive and pass along disaster-attentive genes. These days our attention is pulled toward all sorts of disasters, although the information isn’t useful in the same way. Too much attention to what’s wrong in the world, and we’re likely to end up with Mean World Syndrome.

Threat also compels us to engage our full potential, to “rise to the occasion” whatever it might be. No wonder that those who want us to marshal our resources for their own purposes try to convince us there’s a grave threat. This is done by football coaches trying to motivate teams right up to political pundits spewing angry conspiracy theories, because it works.

But rising to our full potential actually means we humans pull together in a crisis. Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at large-scale disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions in her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary. People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. Such people express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the greatest misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves. Solnit says, “The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.”

By some counts, mid-April leans closer to tragedy than many other times of the year. But let’s remember, this month is isn’t defined by disaster. Instead, like every moment on Earth, it’s packed with constant, unsung acts of cooperation and beauty.

I dreamed once that what each of us contribute to this world, maybe to worlds beyond, is an energy fingerprint. All our striving and accomplishments are wisps, quickly lost to time, but this fingerprint of energy remains and affects all other energy. It’s the overall attitude that matters—grateful or bitter, loving or hateful, aware or dismissive.

Whether my dream has any truth or not, I do believe that even in the midst of tragedy we can choose an attitude of hope and compassion. Anger, fear, and vindictiveness isn’t the fingerprint I want to leave.

April tragedy, April curse, energy imprint,

Image:michammer.deviantart.com

This is a repost from our farm blog

Dreaming of Halos

what's a halo mean, auras,

Louis Welden Hawkins – The Haloes, 1894

Dreams are a stairway to what’s beyond our ordinary awareness. That’s true of daytime dreams—aspirations that become more achievable as we help each other make our wishes come alive.  But here I mean dream dreams, you know, ones the dictionary defines as a “series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.”

Some of us more easily recall dreams than others. Apparently this has to do with reactivity in certain regions of the brain, although experts insist we can train ourselves to more effectively remember dreams.

No matter the facts, I like to talk about dreams. I’m fascinated by cultures where dreams are discussed and used as a way of tapping into a stream of wisdom that’s forgotten in so-called advanced societies.

And I love to get together with friends for dreamwork sessions where we share and investigate our dreams, something we do far too infrequently but always find illuminating.

If I had better follow-through for this passion I’d be one of those people who keep illustrated dream journals where the guidance found in dreams is recognized. Alas, I’m not. I only write down dreams when they linger in my head long after I’ve woken, in a not-remotely-arty Word doc.  Though I started this particular doc back in 2000, I’ve recorded only a few dreams each year. Most of the time they ramble along in weirdly disjointed anti-logic, as dreams tend to do. But several feel like teachings. Here’s one from August 2007 that stays with me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A dark-haired child in medieval dress, somewhere between five and eight years old and with a wise aspect, was my guide in this brief dream.

She showed me a number of different paintings. They rose up before me from nowhere with complete darkness around them. Most were icons or close-ups of religious paintings, all with halos around people’s heads.

I thought to myself that the halos seemed like auras, trying to notice which were painted with solid lines and which were more diffuse. The moment I tried to apply logic the pictures stopped.

The child explained. She used words that were simple, beautiful, and had the resonance of the ages behind them. I cannot recall most of what she said, as it was well beyond my understanding, but I’ve retained the following meaning.

The accepted beliefs and worldview of an era form a sort of perimeter around each person. This is the way of people. Those who have been called mystics and saints are people who perceive what’s beyond these boundaries. This perception, this apprehension of something greater, causes the perimeter itself to glow. The breaching of what’s closed is powerful energy.

I wish I could express it better. In the dream I could feel what pulsed at the juncture of small human reality and larger Truth as a kind of electricity or creative force. It emitted light. The energy was generative and alive with possibility. I was awed to glimpse it, even as dream material.

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. Carl Jung

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Resources for those of you fascinated by the dream wisdom accessible to us all.

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff

anything by Carl Jung, such as The Essential Jung

anything by pioneer of Active Dreaming, Robert Moss

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream by Andrea Rock

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant (sci-fi world where reality is shaped by dreams)

energy of halos,

Antonio Mancini- Self-Portrait, 1883