Contemplative prayer

I have begun an online course in contemplative prayer.  The daily practice involves twenty minutes of silence, and the course website includes a video, to use as a 20-minute timer.  It begins with a bell, and for twenty minutes of silence a film runs, of rain dripping off bare tree branches.  At the end the bell sounds again.

I am not good at this.  The first time I viewed the video I discovered it was starting over, and I set out to determine the length of the original clip and how many times it had been spliced together to get the 20-minute length.  The second time I attempted to watch the video, it crashed my computer.

I was left with a blank screen and the ticking of the clock on the wall.  Perhaps better than the video is the Yoga-like concentration on the breath, the complete giving of consciousness to the physical presence in the chair, the heating pad warming my back, my hands around my coffee cup.  Eyes closed, being present to these sensations, breathing in, breathing out, resisting the temptation to count the breaths (I identify with that Muppets character, I count everything).  I open my eyes and see the clock.  It has been 22 minutes.

Gratitude

I should be grateful — and I am — that my ears live not in a drawer but firmly implanted in my head, my teeth in my mouth where they belong (and they still work).  My eyes on the table?  Those are photo-grays, my sunglasses.  OK, they’re bifocals.  For the small print.

I try not to envy the thirty-somethings who throw their bodies around as though they were indestructible, as I carefully climb out of my car, both feet on the ground after swinging both legs out from under the steering wheel.  And what about that pain in my hip when I put the clutch in and the one in my elbow as I shift?  How long before I have to trade in Sadie, my trusty Subaru, on an automatic transmission model?  Or maybe I should just ditch it before the faulty airbag kills someone (you didn’t hear me say that, Sadie).  I am grateful.  I’m thankful every time I get out of bed and I can still walk, every time I can pick up a pen and write without having to resort to the keyboard, grateful every time I swallow and the water actually goes down.  And for the brief shining morning moment, after coffee, when I can manage a workout at the gym or a hike in the forest.

Drainage

My readers may or may not remember Monsoon 2013. We returned from over three weeks of wonderful travel and visits with family and friends on the East coast, to find the monsoon in full swing. On the day after our arrival, as the rain sluiced down, we at first were grateful for the moisture, but after a half-hour we began to view the front courtyard outside the sliding glass doors with a bit of alarm. The water level rose to five inches and the water began to seep in under the doors; I stuffed rolled-up towels against the bottom of the door. Just as the rain began to let up a little, Dick expressed alarm from the library. A thin film of water was running across the floor from the wall the library shares with the courtyard, wetting everything in its path (most of which was cardboard boxes full of books).

That library wall (with the courtyard on the other side) has finally been exposed, with demolition of the built-in shelving and cupboards that were there. We had a carpenter ready to replace the rotted sills and studs and sheetrock, but first Dick went poking around outside to see why the courtyard could fill up like a bathtub. There was little point in replacing parts that were just going to rot out again. And how could such a massive flaw have been designed into what seemed like a decent house? He figured out the slope of the patio which was feeding the water buildup, and it appeared destined to pool right there in front of the courtyard, unless it could keep running down into the gravel to the right. The gravel was heaped up forming a barrier that forced the water to back up into the courtyard. He began scraping away the gravel, and — Lo and Behold! — there was a wire screen covering the open end of a long length of perforated drainpipe! This was the drainage which had been designed and had not been maintained.

Pentecost Sunday, 2015

It is with relief – even glee – that I watch the rainwater wash down off the patio and go bubbling into the newly-exposed little drain, from the gullywasher of a shower that we are getting just now. At 12:30 the weather was lovely and clear with a slight pine-scented breeze in the forest picnic area where the church Pentecost picnic was going on; then the clouds began to move in and a faint rumble of thunder was heard. The picnic would probably have gone on for a while (the cookies weren’t gone yet), but I folded up my chair with the others, and the rain began about a half-hour after I got home. The water would have crept several inches farther into the courtyard toward the house by now, if not for the drain. I can see the little bubbles that form at the bottom of the stairs go boating to the right and disappear over the side, where the drain awaits them. It makes me very happy. I’m going to go and watch them some more…

The Changeling

There was a changeling in our family:  it was me.  Born into a family steeped in Protestant work ethic, with busyness of hands and singleness of purpose, making a living, keeping the customers happy, remembering promises made, needing obligations to structure the day.  Me, I wanted to be a nun, cloistered, living a contemplative spirit-centered life.  There was no monastic community available to a ten-year-old Protestant girl, so I joined a herd of cows.  The pasture was a short walk up the hill and an easy climb between the bars of the gate (I could never fit through there today).  The cows were the perfect companions in my retreat; they looked me up and down and one by one slowly moved away, leaving me to my own devices so long as I didn’t go near the pond when it was drinking time.  The stone wall that receded into the woods was my chapel and the wind in the branches provided musical accompaniment to my contemplation.  The irony was that the instrument my mother used to call me home to dinner, back to their world, was a cowbell.

Perfect music

I was listening to NPR on my way to the dump.  “Performance Today” was playing the perfect music.  It was an orchestral piece by some composer I’d never heard of; it was supposed to describe the march of soldiers in ancient Rome, but before I learned that, I thought it must be about the very weather I was experiencing.  The sky was mixed sun and clouds, with tiny storm cells forming up and dissipating again.  When I turned on the radio, the sun was behind a black-bottomed cloud:  low dark cello music.  Driving on, I got a view of mountains to the west in partial sunshine with clouds casting their shadows:  right on cue came the woodwinds with a brighter note.  For a moment I was in full sun:  the horns came in at that very moment, sparkling and brilliant.  As I drove on, another cloud, just about the size of Winnie-the-Pooh’s, was spitting rain on my windshield to high tinkling notes played on the piano.  To top it off, the piece contained a sequence of birdsong, the actual song of a nightingale, recorded in Rome.  I love going to the dump!

Book Report: Wolf Hall

Modern biographer Hilary Mantel writes of Henry VIII and his pursuit of 28-year-old Anne Boleyn, putting aside his 50-year-old queen Katherine who has not yet produced a male heir to the throne and now never will.  Ms. Mantel casts the story as romance, at least on Henry’s part.  Henry as ruling monarch in the age of monarchy believes that he should have anything he wants:  an annulment of the 20-year marriage that has produced Princess Mary and a whole graveyard full of dead babies; a new woman in this bed.  He erupts in red-headed rage when all his counselors cannot convince the Pope to grant him an annulment.  He has no grounds for divorce; Katherine is more loyal than Henry’s dog.  But Anne, who has occupied practically every bed in the kingdom, is holding out to be queen.  To enjoy the milk, Henry must buy the cow.  I see little of romance here, and not even much of lust.  King Henry wants a healthy son, and had he been able to indulge his appetites with Anne Boleyn probably would have followed advice and taken some truly young princess to wife and had more sons than he knew what to do with.  Anne was stubborn and power-hungry, and she wont the battle.  As we all know, later she lost the war.

The story is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry’s counselors.  The details of the Cromwell home life and the man’s interior landscape are richly imagined and fully as interesting as the court drama, if not more so.  The book is well deserving of my time.

Blog articles

I notice that three months have passed since the last time I posted an article. Perhaps that should tell me something. The enthusiasm with which I embarked on the blog was mostly about the strangeness of my new life and all the new things I found, both in the Southwest in general and Silver City in particular, and in the retired state after forty years of defining myself partially by my career. I have settled in now, adapted to the landscape and culture and my current situation, and come to regard it not only as my real life, but equal in value to any of my former lives. This is good. Perhaps I shall continue to post new thoughts as they come to me, but the period of a new discovery every time I turn around is at an end. There is comfort in the known, equal in value to the excitement of the new.

Becoming a Nun

Once upon a time, about 1960, I thought I wanted to be a nun. I wanted to be like Teresa of Avila, praying and writing. I wasn’t even Catholic; the point was the time and expectation given to those cloistered away from the world, for cultivating states of higher consciousness. My generation did that with drugs, but that seemed like cheating. I felt chained to the daily round, a slave to the ideas held by those well-meaning adults who asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never told them the truth. I never said, I want to be free (free of you and your pettiness); I want to be in a place where I can belong, where there are no constricting undergarments or white gloves or high heels or hair just-so. Hide me under a habit – who knows what they wear under there – it needn’t be anything. It was only later I learned that most nuns were teachers or nurses, no more likely to be mystics than the rest of us.

A Small Rant

They told me recently on NPR news that the latest round of airbag recalls was not likely to result in notifications to owners of all the affected cars, due perhaps to a shortage of repair parts, but at any rate we should add to our list of things to do every six months a search online with the VIN of our automobile, that string of gobbledegook longer than “antidisestablishmentarianism,” to see whether we are listed. “Fine,” I growled, “add that to the list.”
I was just forced to add items to a monthly list to ensure that all the bills get paid. Regarding the U. S. Postal Service as more reliable than a computer, I have held out for paper bills. The post office, however, doesn’t always “deliver for you.” Three times I have paid late fees when a bill wasn’t paid, because it never arrived. In the case of the water bill, they warn us that they aren’t sending late notices anymore, they’ll just shut the water off. It is no wonder those little slips of paper they send as water bills get lost in the post office; one arrived two months after the due date, stamped with a large dirty boot print. So now at the end of the month I have to check my list of monthly bills against payments made to be sure everything arrived and got paid. I can’t wait for the next time a water bill is missing so I can march downtown to the city office and yell at them.

Disguises

I can’t remember the last time I wore a costume or a disguise of any sort. I was always an old fogey, even as a child. I was not fond of Hallowe’en, hated trick-or-treating (not only did it seem like begging, I didn’t even like candy, except for peach pits and peppermints, while the neighbors gave out disgusting things like Mary Jane and Tootsie Rolls), and getting all tricked out in a costume seemed stupid when you had to put a coat on over it and cover it up. So I have been happily innocent of costumes, avoiding costume parties and Hallowe’en. Until this year.
I began volunteering at Single Socks in the spring, and in late September I learned that volunteers working in the shop during the last week of October are expected to come in costume. As October wore on, I could understand why. All sorts of merchandise which had been in storage came out for the Hallowe’en displays: wigs, tiaras, vintage suits and skirts, jackets and gowns, capes and scarfs and sashes, masks, crazy hats, ghoulish makeup, Lion King, astronaut, dinosaur and Tinker Bell costumes for the younger set, pumpkin candy-buckets, pumpkin salt-and-pepper shakers, pumpkin anything-you-could-think-of, and decorations all over the shop. This was going to be a chore.

Doctor costume

Doctor costume

One of my tasks at Single Socks is the weekly laundromat run, and it was here, in the donations being washed, that I discovered my answer: a T-shirt with a design on it that looked like the front of a doctor’s outfit – button-down collar and necktie, jacket lapels, pockets full of instruments. My laundry partner, a retired nurse, offered me a white lab coat and stethoscope, and a surgical mask that ended up hanging off one ear. I own white slacks and white leather sneakers. Perfect.
Single Socks staff

Single Socks staff


In the weeks leading up to Hallowe’en, store staff began wearing crazy hats. I was offered a skunk pelt to wear on my head, and found that I actually enjoyed when people walked into the store and noticed my hat. I could call myself a “little stinker” before others had the opportunity. About 90% were blank-faced. Were they oblivious or just being polite? On Hallowe’en, I was told by a customer that my doctor getup was the most frightening costume of all, in these Ebola-scare days. I had wondered how many people would say things like that; he was the only one.
Masked Hi Lo Silvers

Masked Hi Lo Silvers

The Hi Lo Silvers fall concert occurred in mid-October, and one of the songs was “Hernando’s Hideaway.” It includes these lyrics: “I know a dark secluded place, a place where no one knows your face.” Someone recalled a spoof where the chorus all wore bags over their heads as masks, so “no one knows your face,” and just as I feared, we had to do this. Everyone decorated a bag, and we sang the first two pages of the song masked. I had forgotten how liberating it to be in disguise, to masquerade as someone else, or as no one, an anonymous invisible person. After a bit of practice with the bags, I found I no longer dreaded this bit of silliness. I suppose it was helping to get me ready for Hallowe’en.maskedSudzy