Water Babies Athirst

There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
Photo: Drinking-Fountain Fountain

At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
Photo: Swan Like

The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
Digital illustration from a photo: Falling, Falling

I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.

Gently into the Night

digital illustration from a photograph

Reparations

While the quiet of the evening draws its curtain on the noise

Day had clamored ’til its leaving, I will lie in calm and poise,

Gently as a bed of lilies bends in summer’s kindest breeze,

As the cat turns, curling, ’til he’s found his pose of greatest ease;

While the dusk falls, silent, deeper into night, my eyelids close

Heavily…I’m soon a sleeper in the stillest of repose…

Midnight finds me softly dreaming, all the day’s loud clatter gone,

‘Til birds chatter at the streaming light of the approaching dawn

While I lie in silent dozing where no sound comes breaking through,

All that shouted ceases, closing restive lips—and spirits, too,

Slip like shades and never flutter more than deepest sleeping sends

To the surface from the utter place of healing and amends;

I will rest here in the solace and the silence so supreme

It can quiet every call as I lie still and, gently, dream…digital illustration from a photograph

Yet More Advice-to-Self

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digitally doctored photo

Hijacking Happiness

digital artwork from a drawingTrouble, as we all know, is highly contagious. I was reminded of this recently both by a television character and by a couple of real-life incidents involving real live people (who shall here remain nameless), and all of them, real and fictional, have a number of similarities, the chief one being their apparent unshakable belief that their suffering is greater than anyone else’s, is incurable, and is probably the fault of everyone else too.

My life is pretty fantastically good, when you get right down to it, so to people who don’t know me very well it might appear that I have no business criticizing anyone else’s way of handling sorrow and pain. But that’s just it: even the most wonderful of lives is touched by trials now and then, and struggle or strife isn’t fairly measurable in the moment. My paper cut seems as dire as your childbirth pangs when I’ve just gotten paint thinner on my hand. I know this to be logically ridiculous in the extreme, but don’t tell me the paper cut doesn’t hurt like boy-howdy at that moment. That would be tantamount to me telling you that since your labor pains will probably be over in short shrift, they don’t compare in any way to another’s battle-for-life with esophageal cancer, so you should just get over yourself. Whatever agony each of us is undergoing is more than enough and not to be belittled. And frankly, since each of us has a history that is tinged here and there with darkness, we do all have a sense, however small, of what it means to accept our griefs and cope with, live with, and go forward with them still present. Real sorrows never truly go away.

And for all of us who can feel empathy, or even more than that, can feel sympathy without having experienced the fulness of another’s troubles, life after infancy (when memory, like the lifespan thus far, is short) can be a perpetual bombardment of such troubles even when they’re not entirely our own.

I, of all people, will readily grant you that some people are far better equipped than others to find ways to survive pain and suffering and to continue living a full life without resorting to out-and-out acting. But that’s just it, isn’t it: barring full mental incapacity, don’t we owe it to ourselves, anyway, to try every possible avenue of becoming whole and happy (and of course I don’t mean that superficial kind of happiness that is either fully false or simply stupid); don’t we? When my personal apocalyptic horsemen appeared at the intersection of a group of the classic stressors (job-related problems, health challenges and the sudden death of a close friend converging on me at the same time) and plunged me into clinical depression, I was fortunate to not only have some of the significant tools (support from family and friends, a great doctor and a good therapist, and ultimately, medication that worked for me) for doing battle with those monsters but also the sense that there was no other acceptable option but to try to do that battle.

I won’t lie; there were times–and will probably be more of them over the years–when I did have to take the tack of that ‘fake it till you make it’ mode, when I simply wanted to quit and lie down and just hope it would all miraculously fix itself, or when I was as sulky and whiny and crotchety and pessimistic and tedious as unhappy people can be. We humans are good at all of that stuff, better than at being sunny and charming. But finally, even in my worst state I knew that was no way to live, and that the important people around me would suffer at least as much as I did, if not more. Thanks to the aforementioned helpers, I am here to tell the tale. More importantly, I don’t dwell in that darkness, even though there’s not much I could prevent or even fix about the troubles that led to such a state of existence. Things just happen. It’s how I deal with them that’ll likely make or break me.

That television character–and the many real-life imitators I referenced–stays so focused on how traumatized and maltreated she feels (albeit by genuinely distressing events and problems) that they become her one-note existence. She has a hard heart because it seems less trouble to close it to others than to be vulnerable to further hurt, but of course the actual effect is that she treats everyone around her like dirt, riding roughshod over their feelings and regarding any trauma or maltreatment they may suffer, often at her hands, as inferior or nonexistent. In turn, after being stomped on repeatedly by her seeming egotism, narrow-mindedness and refusal to set her hurt aside, the people around her disperse as speedily as that unlucky drop of water hitting a sizzling skillet explodes into mist. Those who tolerate her constant vituperation, impatience with their perceived stupidity or lack of sympathy, and her seeming wish to continue forever wallowing in her fury and self-pity, those characters ultimately become uninteresting or even unsympathetic themselves to me; after the ninety-ninth offense anyone sits back and takes without a fight, they tend to my eye to look like either enablers or equally fixed in victim mode.

I think we all have the power to steal others’ health and happiness, at least as much as the reasonably healthy among us should make every effort to take charge of our own. Doesn’t mean perfection is expected, but c’mon, people, if there’s really no going forward with life, perhaps a retreat to a very quiet hermitage would be more apropos than imposing our worst on the rest of the world. Yeah, I said it: get over yourself, Kathryn. Even if it might occasionally require brief periods of kindly deceit, times of returning to fighting off the dark singlehandedly, and the ordinary moments of being a jerk. It’ll mean equal demand on me for repentance, amends-making, and getting back on the wagon. There’s too much life left ahead, I hope, to spend it mired in a grim and terrible past, let alone impose it on others.

The upside of all this is that there is a possibility of turning this kind of thievery to good. Very simply, if I have to I can borrow my equilibrium and contentment from others. Put myself in proximity to saner, happier people than me until I can manufacture my own, and quietly absorb what I can of their good graces. I, at least, don’t want to be the one who steals the joy of anyone else; that only becomes the reason for new sorrows all ’round. Happiness and health can be contagious, too, if we let them. And so we all should, my friends. So we should.

Sorrow, Begone! Morning will Come Again

photo diptychTo Rest in Peace
The night is long and still I cannot sleep
For fear the dawn will steal what I would keep
When hope and restlessness have wrestled till
The willow near my bedroom windowsill
Bends nearer down to say she’ll weep with me,
One generation to the next, poor tree–
The night will surely pass, and so will sorrow,
Yes, just as death’s outlasted by tomorrow,
So let me sleep, O grief, or let me fly now,
Over the willow tree, rise up and die now–
For what’s this aching but forewarning cold
That what’s ahead is neither dross nor gold
Except it brings me closer by its cost
To endless morning, healed of what I’d lost.photoMy dear friends, this post was prepared some time ago because I knew it was going to be a busy day: a travel day for my husband and me on our return home from TMEA (the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual conference of well over 20,000 musicians, students and teachers). Not at all surprisingly, being surrounded by this musical ‘cloud of witnesses’ has made our thoughts turn to Eric Ericson and the many gifts he brought to the choral world over his long and storied career, and to my spouse’s and my lives as well, so we were talking about him as we walked home from a TMEA event late last night. So somehow, despite the sadness of it, it was not so shocking to waken this very morning to the news that he has died. He was, after all, 94 years old. But it seems to me that he was escorted out of this world on a wave of music, and that is only fitting for such a titan of choral culture. He will be missed by uncountable choirs of his musical offspring–and he left a song that will never stop resounding in our midst. Farewell and peace, Eric.

The Sound of Inner Peace

 

photoSilence is both elusive and therefore, golden in this life. Even when we can escape the ambient clamor of our everyday existence it’s rather rare to achieve the sort of true silence that’s found in deep contemplation, deeper meditation or deepest sleep. Our own brains make an immense quantity of distracting and sometimes just plain disconcerting noise so much of the time that it’s rather remarkable we even know what silence is or can be.photoIt’s almost ironic, then, that what makes inner calm and silence possible for me is often music. The way that music can clear my mind of mess and detritus, allow me to empty myself of unproductive or unpleasant things and focus on things of grace and beauty until my mind opens up so wide that it can embrace genuine calm, peace, contentment and meaningful introspection, achieve a kind of silence that transcends nothingness and surpasses quietude. Music makes me whole.photo