Six Months

IMG_0843Part of my Lenten practice this year is Seven Sun Salutations, at least, in part, for the alliterative value of that practice.  It reminds me of that bit on “Sesame Street” with the baker.  “Seven…sun…salutations!”  The other part is letting myself mourn my old life.  One of my godmothers mentioned to me that it was okay to do this.

It seems ungrateful.  I am reluctant to say anything negative about my move, since, after all, I chose it, and I am so lucky to get to do this, and you get to have all these great adventures, and blah, blah, blah, but my godmother said I could, so I will.

“You had roots,” she said.  I did.  I mean, I do.

Last Friday I went straight from work to Penn Station.  One of my classes on Friday was quite unpleasant.  I will repeat that my limits allow for kids yelling, not sitting down, throwing small objects, using profanity.  They do not allow for kids touching me, yelling profanity at me (once or twice a year max), throwing anything that could actually hurt anyone.  The unpleasant hour was within my limits.  Merely I won’t shut up, I won’t sit down, I won’t do any work.  With my freshmen, they are certainly not perfectly behaved, but on our bad days, instituting a bit of silent reading time has always been enough to settle us to productivity.  Not Friday.

Year nine of teaching, and yes, I still have times, days, I think, maybe I am not cut out for this.  I suck.  I do not have that je ne sais quoi that makes people listen.  MLK had that, but then, so did Hitler.

The previous day, I had taken kids on a great field trip, got to see lots of them smile and say things like, “I’ve never eaten dumplings before!” and one kid had written me this uber-sweet thank you letter.

There are some things in teaching I’m good at, some I’m not.

I finished my day with a teacher meeting where we shared some of our regrets, weaknesses, and fears.  That helped.

Being a teacher fosters both pride and humility.  Lots of both.

The train ride to Philadelphia was long enough I felt myself come back into my body.  I pulled my suitcase from the train station to the art museum.  A guy in front of me on the sidewalk said I looked French.  The beret.  Then he said he had met some Italian tourists recently who asked how to get to “Baltimoray.”  Doesn’t everything sound better in Italian?  Of course it does, we agree.

Everyone at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was elaborately friendly.  It was like I was in Georgia, but no one had an accent.  “Is there anything else I can do for you?  Anything in particular you want to see?”  the ticket sellers said.  “Hi, how are you?” several of the guards said as I walked by.  I can’t remember a museum guard ever greeting me.

I met my cousin that evening, and he hugged me.  We went out to dinner, and someone said, “I can tell you’re related.”

The next day I met an old friend, and she said offhandedly, “You know how I am,” and I do.

Between the two of them, they have known me 54 years.

I miss being able to help people because I know who they should talk to, where they should go for this or that.  I miss playing hostess, which I did a lot during my mansion days.  I miss introducing people to each other, hoping they will enjoy each other’s company or somehow benefit each other.  I miss knowing what is going on.  I miss having so many people I love spending time with, time that is hours of just talking.  I miss knowing where I want to go, what I want to eat.

At the Philadelphia museum, I saw this piece by Michael Snow.  Snow took a metal tub and set objects in it, poured in some grey liquid plastic, put more random stuff in, poured more plastic in.  On the left is the now-hardened bin.  On the right is a pile of white gloves.  In the middle are 22 wooden slabs.  A Philadelphia-friendly brunette young woman says, “Would you like to participate in our interactive display here?”

Of course I would.  I put on the gloves and pawed through the pile of slabs, as directed.  They are images of the tub being created, object by object, gluey grey plastic and more gluey grey plastic.  Things being engulfed.  They were in that tub now.  Sort of.  They were no longer accessible.

“Sesame Street” Seven with the Baker

Giving Up

This year for Lent I let everything fall apart.  Primarily, my belief that if I practiced some technique carefully and fervently enough, I would feel good.  For the second year, I let my abstention from alcohol and chocolate go.  I picked up meditating again for a while, and then I let that go, too.  I didn’t carry anything with me.  Nothing made it special, except the decorations at church and my own deeply ingrained feeling, from Christian practice fitting me like a glove, and generations of observance before me in my blood.  I knew it was Lent.

If you’ve grown up Christian, you’ve heard the Passion story so many times it’s hard to notice it.  Jesus basically has the worst day you can imagine.  The details of the worstness are both touchingly human (your friends are nowhere to be found when you’re in trouble) and absurdly exotic (people offer you a sponge soaked in wine).  You’ve got your emotional suffering, your physical suffering, your fear of being snatched up by the authorities, and it all culminates in the fear of death.  It’s a no good, very bad day.

Spiritual movement is about letting more and more things go, until finally you are only carrying what is yours: a soul, maybe, a spirit, a sight, a sound, an impulse, a knowing.  This year I let go of my long-cherished image of myself as Always Perfectly Healthy.  I’ve been working on letting go of I Must Move to New York To Be Real, and I Desperately Want To Have Children Before It’s Too Late Except When I Don’t, and My Life Doesn’t Actually Begin Until I’m Securely Coupled.  My toughest, which will probably occupy the rest of my life, is I Am Perfectly Fine, Thank You.  These scripts don’t really do much for me but keep my brain occupied.  I’d rather look at paintings and watch movies and read books and talk to friends and write.  I’d even rather do the dishes while feeling the water and listening to the scrub of the brush.

In the Passion story, Jesus gives up his friends, his family, his body, his physical life.  He doesn’t give up his emotions or his pain.  He’s sad and angry and confused.  He’s hurting.  It’s a great story because someone, after it happened, felt that God was with Jesus through the whole business, and that nothing about who Jesus was became diminished by his (probably ignominious) death.  In fact, they felt his message get stronger, and bolder, and brighter, as time went on.  Which is a real miracle.

Size Matters

This week I drank a glass of merlot at happy hour.  It was no big deal to anyone except me.  For many years, I gave up alcohol for Lent.  I felt like I needed to rethink my ritual, so I decided I would be easier on myself.  I’m calling this a “soft Lent.”  I would mostly give up chocolate and alcohol.  If I felt like I needed to be looser and kinder to myself, I would have a damn drink or eat a silly cookie.

I have been thinking about hope.  It’s Lent just now, so church is 80% repenting, buoyed by 20% hope.  We couldn’t have Lent at all if we didn’t know Easter party time was at the end.  The arrangements on the altar now are brown branches, no green at all.  Somebody wrapped our cross in scarlet film this year, rather than covering St. Peter, Christ, and St. John the Evangelist with our Lenten screen.  I was glad.  The screen is fine: a crown of thorns, a chalice and wafer.  I really miss the paintings of the guys when they’re covered up, though.  I like to see them and be like, what’s up, guys?

I ordered the wine after I got invited to happy hour and realized that I was feeling pretty down, and I ought to go wrap myself in the company of cheerful people.  So I drank my wine, sort of expecting to be struck by lighting, but instead laughing at how we faced a whole table of men, all of whom seemed to be staring at us, since The Game was on the TVs right above our heads.

The lesson last Sunday was about Abram (still Abram) being shown all the stars.  God says, I’m going to give you all these descendants, and Abram is like, yeah, right.  Then some creepy stuff happens where God proves He means it by levitating a torch through the halves of a goat carcass or something.  (I tried humor the author here, since he was writing a bazillion years ago.)

This story is about expanding horizons.  It’s someone saying, “This place is huge.  Big.  No, bigger.  Much bigger.  Your life could be much, much bigger.”  So big that it’s okay to stop drinking wine for a while if it makes you feel like an A-plus Episcopalian, and it’s also okay to settle for a C, or even an F if your day is a stupid F level day.

Lent is a good time to try to refocus yourself, which could mean experimenting with limits.  I have benefited from these limits– learned about how painful and how silly it is when fear you will DIE without a cookie.  Craving a cookie, I can often laugh at myself and the whole world.  Life is just full of ridiculous burning cravings that could could quickly fade if you are watching for favorite TV show.

This year, I think my more important challenge is to see the big picture, the full sky, and consider which limits are healthy, and which ones make me feel small and hopeless.

To Ashes

I used to find the ashes creepy.  Everyone in this church will die.  Every old person, young person, baby, and flower in this church will die.  (I think all our flowers are real.)  As they come down the steps,  I would imagine their funerals.  What will be said?  Where will it be?  Will a lot of people come?  Who of all their family and friends will survive to mourn the loss?  Where will they be buried or thrown to the winds?

That sounds depressing.  This year, I also thought: what a relief.  You may think your problems and your schedule and your angst are a big deal.  You’re gonna die anyway.  Ash Wednesday suggests you might compare your ego and your problems to the entire universe.  Or, more colloquially, dude, give it a rest.

A hundred years ago, there was a completely different set of people at my church.  A hundred years from now, if it’s still there, if people still think Ash Wednesday mass is valuable, the worshippers will be a completely different cast of characters.  Something has held people to this ritual for centuries.  Something has held people to these rituals on that very spot since 1898.

They were very important– helping build and maintain a church I love– and very unimportant– mostly forgotten, all dead and buried.  I know they worried about work and money and their loved ones.  And now they don’t have anything to worry about.  They are said and done.  They are ashes.