The whole of nature has its ways of reflecting perfection, when we take that momentary pause in which we can step back to appreciate such things. Even, as I posted yesterday, in death there is room for new life; out of captivity, freedom. In silence, I come to better appreciate the small and unobtrusive ways, not just the large, noticeable ones, in which sound enriches my world: water burbling down a ditch, breeze-stirred grasses, bees that sing soft love songs to their golden pollen treasures. In stillness, I relish each breath and every tentative movement as the wind kicks up a little and sets the empty park swings in motion again. Out of wintry darkness and overcast days, I more consciously embrace a bright afternoon and its combed, silky clouds.
Under the willow tree, her shade my calm,
I see so bent by storms her trunk, how far
The winds have twisted every limb, each scar
Where lightning struck; yet there’s a quiet psalm
Of gratitude that whispers in her leaves
Each time another rainfall comes to spend
Its quenching kindness on her and to send
New hope down deep—for anyone who grieves
Or wonders how to pass through life’s travail
Finds shelter in her shadow—knows the limbs
That seem to weep are only singing hymns,
Embracing in their gentle sway the frail.
So one fine sapling, tended with such care,
Becomes the home for all who shelter there.
And now her roots are deep, her branches wide
Enough to draw more birds to them to nest,
Assured, secure and loved, and full at rest,
No matter what the world is like outside—
Just as I am, beneath the willow’s arm
Of graceful comfort, grateful for her wise,
Kind lesson to look upward to the skies
For blessed rain, and sun to keep us warm,
For sweet reminders of the Gardener
Who made the willow grow, and gave her strength
To nurture others in her shade, at length,
Upon the graces planted there in her:
So one fine sapling, tended with such care,
Becomes the home for all who shelter there.
I sing for love of singing, For music, sweet and strong
That carries me from joy to joy, Amending every wrong—
To hear clear voices ringing Across the dawn of day
Makes purest gold, without alloy, My every waking way—
As day approaches evening, A lullaby, at last,
Gives night delight, believing As I do that in the vast—
Infinite—constellation Of voices in the night,
I will find deep communion With the song that sets me right—
I sing for love of singing, For in the choir’s heart
Is all the song of blessing That I longed for from the start.
There’s a sweetness in the morning when the sun has yet to rise
And the blooms lie, still unopened, under sleeping butterflies;
When the stars still wink and glimmer, while the frogs yet softly sing—
There’s a graciousness at midday when, amid the racing streams,
All arise and put in motion yesterday’s profoundest dreams;
When the past its chains has loosened on the race of all alive,
There’s a calm amid the evening when the birds come to the trees’
Respite from the day of flying, echoed by our evening ease;
When the cares of noon have lessened as the dusk swept into place—
There’s a beauty to the nighttime, glorious and peaceful bliss,
Treasured for the kind renewal of the souls that rest in this
Cradling darkness and this languor, in this place of mending rest
I would take these hours’ presents as my guide through seasons long,
Through a lifelong path that’s pleasant as a choir’s finest song;
I would be a seasoned traveler, happy above everything,
If my song could last forever,
Whenever day’s grown dark and grim
And life, obscured behind a scrim,
Surprisingly, the welcome light
Through colored windows seems less dim–
Though blue and red may look less bright
By day, and screen the moon by night,
What rays come through and lumens pass
These panes set inner bleakness right–
No sorrow ends its storms, alas,
Merely because the beams amass,
But something blest descends on him
Whose heart is lit by colored glass.
Night into Day
In the sinking stillness of the evening,
After birds have ceased to flit and call,
Silence comes to rest as day is leaving
And dark draws down the shade where night will fall;
The smallest breath of wind stirs from its sleeping,
For after dusk another world takes flight,
A world with gleaming secrets in its keeping
That give the constellations dazzling light,
Fill up the moon with shining opalescence,
Fill up the heart with dreaming of the day
And how its powers overcome senescence
When sun returns to chase the night away.
It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary. When they got married 57 years ago, I can only assume that they hadn’t the remotest idea of where they would be in their lives today, let alone all of what would have transpired between then and now. For the most part, I think it’s a tremendous blessing that we don’t know what lies ahead, because the bad parts would probably terrify any sane person out of moving forward, and the good ones would lose some of their savor for having been predictable. But however innocently ignorant my parents may have been in youth, they had the good sense to marry for love.
The real kind, of course, not just that thrilling inner swell that is romantic infatuation. That stuff is fantastic and helps fuel and sustain the deeper sort, but without the kind of love that abides when life’s realities are too hard at the moment, when we’re too tired or busy or distracted or cranky to skip through shimmering meadows of happiness with kindness in our souls and sugar cookies in our lunch boxes, infatuation is instantly deflated. I’m pretty certain that my parents had an inkling of this from very early, but it’s something I saw them cultivate and tend like flowerbeds throughout the years. Their modus operandi has generally been one of keeping the mechanics of the operation to themselves, not being the sort to air their disagreements in front of others or to be so publicly rampant in their amours that their companions would fall into diabetic comas in their company, but the depth and intensity of commitment and actual friendship have always been in evidence. The passing anniversaries merely mark further milestones that demonstrate how those gifts have continued to nurture real love. Trials and tribulations and happier adventures all along the way inevitably change the shape and character of such love and its multifarious accoutrements, but the signposts stand firm and the blooms of beauty and kindness never fade, no matter how the path meanders in the garden and no matter where the beds need to relocate or be retrenched from time to time.
You won’t be surprised, then, that I think they deserve bouquets of fond recognition on this day, even if they’re only virtual bouquets; they’re all from my garden, which I learned from my parents to tend, and that I hope when I grow up I can be as constant in my love and affection as Mom and Dad are. Let love continue to bloom.
That’s Texan for 新年快樂 and today is the start of the Year of the Dragon! So in addition to being a big year for my youngest sister thanks to her year of birth, this should be a year of power and prosperity for all, as the dragon is symbolic of not only royalty but is the only truly rare creature in the Chinese zodiac, being supposedly mythical and all. I happen to know where one or two hang out, but then I am kind of special, being a Rat (we Rats won the Emperor’s race between the twelve great creatures, for those of you not in the know).
And why should an old Norsk-descendant-living-in-north-Texas like me care about Dragons and Chinese calendars? Because I find all sorts of cultural treasures from all sorts of rich cultures fascinating, and why wouldn’t anyone. It’s an ecumenical sort of thing with me: most cultures have at many levels interests, beliefs and strengths that are not only worthy of examination but surprisingly held in common by many, if not most, others–simply under different names–and I think it’s tremendously impressive and endlessly intriguing to learn how our seemingly diverse nationalities, languages, customs and faiths ultimately intertwine.
Have you ever looked at a piece of Folk Art and thought that it might come from East Africa somewhere–but then thought that it might equally have come from the hands of Inuit artists or Suomi ones, dwellers in Oceania or Croatia or maybe somewhere in the heart of Syria? It’s amazingly frequent that one comes across such remarkably strong commonalities across cultures and borders that it takes a veritable forensic investigation and examination to determine a thing’s true origins. In many cases we learn along the way that in fact the point of “origin” for a single word, object, or idea as we know it was the end point of a long and winding journey through many cultures and across many borders.
That’s a mighty long-winded way of saying that it’s only natural in my view that I should be happy to learn more about and celebrate other nationalities’ and other people’s most fabulous and fascinating attributes.
The other aspect of my personal interest is simpler, perhaps: some of my Norwegian ancestors lived and worked in China in pre-Communist years and founded a school that is still flourishing under the care of Chinese teachers and administrators. For all that I deplore about the darker sort of “evangelism” practiced by many missionaries under the guise of Christian faith (and perhaps others), this kind of mutual interchange of ideas and contribution of efforts strikes me as among the best in any relationship and one I’m happy to recognize. My mother’s cousin, at the time the Norwegian Ambassador in Beijing, took my visiting aunt to the school a few years ago and they were welcomed like some sort of heroes returning from the mists of time on their arrival merely for being descended from the school’s founders, so I think it safe to say that this was seen as a more positive influence than some.
And finally, my love of things Chinese comes from wonderful friends who either are Chinese by birth or descent themselves or have spent joyful time immersed in China and Chinese culture. One such couple would be my “extra grandparents” the wonderful Talbert and Ella, who had also lived with great happiness for years of missionary work in China. Again, I know both from their deeply gentle and thoughtful natures as surrogate grandparents and from the fact that they were in the first party of Westerners actually invited to return to the Chinese interior after the flowering of détente, that this was a true love for them. The plain yet happy upshot in my middle-American life was that as a young girl I was taught by Talbert how to hold my chopsticks properly, grew up eating genuine and very humble stir-fries in my Norwegian-American home because Ella shared her know-how with Mom (long before Americans ever knew of any Asian foods more authentic than Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yong as defined by westernized restaurants), and I was regaled with tales of a magical kingdom that was surprisingly real.
When we lived outside Chicago for a couple of years during that time, a highlight was a dinner Talbert and Ella took us to at a classic hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant of the truly authentic sort, where Talbert chattered in Mandarin with the delighted owner and ordered us an unforgettably delicious feast. The owner was so taken with us that when he discovered that our party there was coincidentally on my (11th?) birthday, he came out and very ceremoniously presented me with a whole packet of chopsticks bearing a series of characters meant for good fortune, and even wrote them down. Such was the delight of the occasion that I can still show you that slip of paper. I made a little graphic out of the characters too, and will share that with you as well, as a token of my good wishes to you for this year. And most of all, because China, through its beauties of people’s shining souls, its art, its rich and almost infinitely ancient culture, its fabulous food and its dreamlike diversity has been such a gift to me all of my life, I wish all of you a very Happy Chinese New Year!
Happiness! Prosperity! Longevity! Peace!
And since I know you’re still wondering, yes, I did go and look up the local dragon. It’s not so much that they’re shy, but being both rare and royal, they’re understandably a little bit protective of their privacy. This particular dragon was lounging around with a unicorn friend and just let me have a quick peep, seeing that it’s His Year, so I could report back to you with confidence that it’s going to be a grand one indeed.
I can’t help it: autumn brings out the nostalgia in me. Something about the solemnity of nature’s visible procession from summer’s excesses into a more profound state, one clearly aware of death yet always moving through its dormancy toward the revival of spring–it all calls forth recollections of seasons past, of holidays I’ve floated through without being quite conscious of how few of those loved ones around the room and around the table will be there at the next or the next one after that . . . .
But the loveliness in this is that that knowledge of what lies ahead is not only the foundation, the underpinning, of awareness at the end of the year, it is indeed the purpose of this cooling down, going to ground, this tempering of high spirits. In part, it’s what adds piquancy and sharpens the joys of the winter holidays, whatever they are in one’s culture or part of the world. For us in the northern hemisphere, the descent into winter has begun and brings with it the knowledge of our mortality–but those of us among the truly fortunate know that it’s precisely that gift that leads us to live more vividly in the present. So we sing and dance and feast and laugh a little more wildly, and it brings out the imaginative child in us all.
Thanksgiving has always been a welcome celebration to me. I come from a family that counts its riches and revels in its blessings very readily, and certainly not just on the Official date designated by the state but with perhaps renewed vigor on that day. But sixteen years ago on Thanksgiving weekend I was gifted with a particular reason for deep thanks, and so the whole festivity took on a yet more personal tone. That was when the man who would become my beloved asked me out on our first date.
You all know by now that I am not very quick on the uptake, so I’ll just say right off that I didn’t even know we were going on a date. I just thought this interesting person was being wonderfully collegial. He’d asked me to collaborate on a project at the university; we’d had a meeting or two with other colleagues to begin the planning, and I’d already started work on my part of the process and was only very dimly aware that when he’d check in on my progress his questions were less germane than personal. I was delighted to go along with the plot when he invited me to go with him on Thanksgiving weekend and have dinner and then attend a performance of the Mark Morris Dance Company’s production of ‘Dido and Aeneas‘. What’s not to like! We had a fabulous salmon dinner at a local bastion of Northwest seafood excellence and discussed, among other things, whether either of us intended to have children; you will begin to understand the true depth of my obtuseness when I tell you that I have no idea how that topic arose on a first dinner outing, let alone did I twig to it that it might indicate the dinner as something more than collegial.
So there we were, eating and chattering and–oh yes–almost being late to the performance. For which Mr. Smooth Operator had in fact prepared the pit choir. His choral group was singing along with the orchestra for the program, and I came that-close to making him late. And found out we were sitting in the front row, center, of the sort of theatre where you can not sneak in surreptitiously. I was in a mild panic. I also had no clue at the time that a conductor might prepare the singers but not conduct the performance (as in this case, where the orchestra’s conductor took the helm), so I was both worried and mystified that my companion was calmly clambering over knees right alongside me to the middle of the stage-apron row. But suddenly there was a tiny, sneaking thought that this person was intending to sit with me throughout the performance and therefore might–just possibly–not have invited me strictly out of co-worker friendliness.
Well, I’ll just cut to the chase and end your suspense. Oh, that’s right, I already told you the fairytale ending! Opaque as my love-goggles are, and slow as I am to order my facts and realize the truly obvious, once I got the hang of all of this I wasn’t particularly behindhand in taking advantage of the situation. I may be silly, but I ain’t stupid!
So I got this ethereal dance/concert date under my belt and wandered a little foggily through the Christmas holidays, dodging my fears of the unknown rather handily for such a big scaredy-cat if I do say so myself, and by the beginning of the year was engaged to build a lifetime of ridiculously happy adventure with Mr Sparkly. And I call him that not just because of our shared last name but because, dang it, he brought and brings enormous amounts of sparkle to my every day. I can’t think of anything for which a person could be more thankful, at this or any time of year.
Now, I’ve been all mushy and reminiscent on you, and I owe it to you to say that it’s entirely the fault of the season. HAH! Of course that’s pure nonsense. But I must reiterate my thesis that Fall encourages such things in me. It brings out with its chill and darkening the contrasting warmth and light of home, hearth, holidays, and hope, with all of their spices and sweetness, their inviting doorways and gates to adventure, and all of the beauty that living in a time of Thanksgiving can bring. I wish for you all the same!