Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Road Trips and Journeys

I'll just start by saying the whole thing was my idea... taking a road trip for Christmas. Eric's family was planning a 90th birthday celebration for his dad on Sunday, December 21st, yet none of us could leave until a few days before that. Spending upwards of $2,000 to get everyone to CA for a few days and doing nothing seemed absurd.. yet funds were limited to do a whole lot more.

So.. I thought a lot about whether any of us really needed to be at home for Christmas. And, truth be told, we didn't. We could make Christmas happen wherever we were. All seemed enthusiastic when I tossed out the idea; I sent links and suggested everybody take a day (or two) and plan part of the trip, but they were busy with school and the most I could get out of them was a request from each: Legoland; Zion; Saguaro NP; and Death Valley. 

I spent hours(very enjoyable hours because I LOVE to plan and figure out travel arrangements!) putting together an itinerary using AirBnB and National Park websites and Google Maps.

My husband sometimes calls me a travel-Nazi, but I'm recovering. I have in the past over-planned things and forced everyone involved to stick to the agenda whether having fun or not! Now I under-plan, and allow so much more personal choice. I'm actually proud of myself and my ability to be let micro-managey about travel.

After the big family birthday gathering, we spent time with our dearest CA friends in Riverside. Actually, this alone was worth the trip!

Here we are on Larry & Marilyn's porch. The only family member missing is Casey. I got a little Xmas tree for our car, which was supposed to be a fun & funny thing, and also to appear in all the pictures in lieu of Casey who could not be with us, but it only made it into this one picture and the fun/funny thing didn't take off. But other fun/funny things did. Sometimes you can't PLAN fun & funny. The tree only cost $3 and we all thought about Casey & wished he were with us, a lot. 

This is the Mission Inn in Riverside. One block from the congregation I served from 96-99, it's quite a regional landmark. The attendant at the car rental desk in Ontario actually asked me if we'd come to see the Christmas lights. In the almost 20 years since we lived there, its annual holiday display has become a huge attraction. Seth & Eric had just arrived. 

Our friends. Dave, Lorrie, Larry, Marilyn, Me & Eric. At bottom: Marjorie, Nathan & Rosie. We will probably never  have friends like these guys again. It sucks that we have gone all these years without finding good friends, and its cool that they have remained friends with one another. The three kids are in college. It is, of course my fault  that we left Riverside, as I could not stay at that church a day longer. Still, a big loss.

I really hope and believe that this Christmas Day is one that everyone will remember as very special and unique. I could honestly get into going away somewhere every year from now on. It felt incredibly free and relaxed and joyful. We stayed at this sprawling, eclectic domicile in the Sonoran desert, owned by a very interesting artist and her paramour, who generously opened the kitchen, common rooms & decks to us, so that we could have a gorgeous sun-speckled breakfast and gift opening. Then we visited Marjorie's first-grade teacher! She'd moved from Kentucky to Tucson and saw on Facebook that we were there. It was the kind of surprise you can not possibly plan.
En route to Flagstaff , we ate our Christmas dinner at a huge and fabulous Asian buffet. Perfect! And Seth, who had been wishing for a white Christmas, got that too: it had been snowing all day in Flagstaff, and although he was asleep, he woke up long enough to see the snow on his way into our Air BnB.

Doesn't this sound good so far? It was! But maybe the trip was a day or two too long. Maybe there's an unwritten rule about how much time families should spend in a car together before they really annoy each other. Because, by the last day, everyone was very cranky and particularly upset with me! And worst of all was that I honestly couldn't figure out why they were upset with me. 

So instead of talking about that, I'm just going to talk about letting go and how far I've come in my (now sixty because I'm writing this on my birthday) years. Going to the Grand Canyon (see Marjorie above) was a HUGE trigger for me, as I took Casey and Colin there 25 years ago soon after getting divorced. I don't think I am any less fearful of cliffs and edges than I was then, and Seth made me even more anxious than Colin did when he was there at age six. So, I stayed well away. But I knew that Colin & Marjorie would go out on the cliffs and take lots of pictures and I was fine with it. I even went close myself, after securing Seth with Eric! A whole family asked me to take their picture and I had to wait while they got organized right on the edge!  I was okay. No one died.

Went to Mexico. Seth got a haircut. I had no idea the barber, who spoke no English, would pull out a straight razor to finish the sideburns. If you know how impulsive Seth is, you will know why this made me anxious. But I breathed through it. It was fine. His first haircut, and possibly one of his finest. For a mere $4.

Below you see Eric, very excited about In-n-Out Burger, and milkshakes. However, Eric, although slim and active and a non-smoker and non-drinker, has high cholesterol and high triglycerides. This is concerning. Then there's Colin, buying drugs in Mexico. Not a concern. They were for his cold. He's almost four years clean. This is a big yabba-dabba-doo. Hence the humor and irony of the picture.

Let's just say I have in the past been prone to a whole lot of worrying about the people in my life because I've had a reason to be. Most of them are addicts or alcoholics or have some form of mental illness. So they are on the edge, so to speak, and it's not just that they could go over the edge and die suddenly. They have done this. This is not an unrealistic fear. Still, I've come so far in the past 25 or so years. I can manage my anxiety. I know I can't control people. I know I can't save them.

Don't fall, kids!

The low point came in Death Valley. How apropos. It was our final day. We awoke to a flat tire. On a Sunday, in Las Vegas. All tired. 

We got into a disagreement about something that seems very insignificant now: what route we would take to get to Death Valley from Las Vegas. We had to turn around and go about 5-6 miles back, and everyone swore that I had told them to go a certain way (which I had, the night before) and got furious at me. I was flummoxed and flabbergasted. They were all (except for Seth) annoyed with me, and I just could not understand why. In retrospect, we probably should have let go of even trying to go to Death Valley that day, but we went. By the end of the day (below, here we are at this amazing crater called Ubehebe crater, near Scotty's Castle), we were at least talking with one another, but it was pretty clear everyone was ready for the trip to end.

It's now about six weeks later, and I am still puzzling a bit over what caused the family to get so upset with me. Clearly, it's me, or at least partly me, because they were all aggravated. I feel as if I need to understand so I can be more clear about how to relate with them in the future. But I think each of them separately, has reasons to be aggravated with me, as I do with them! It just all came out on that one day. I trust that we will discover and uncover them as time passes, or I will if I go forth with good will and good intentions. Meanwhile, I have become much more serious about keeping my daily meditation practice as well as a journal practice. These I hope will keep me honest and doing the work I need to do, going forth. So that is good.

I witnessed so many wonderful things about my family that I want to savor. I don't want the beautiful and joyful parts of the trip to be overshadowed by one cranky day!

Colin and Marjorie having so much great brother/sister bonding time. This is priceless!
 Colin's photographs of Zion. His appreciation of God's handiwork. Who'd a thunk?
Seth's awesome haircut. Actually, everything about Seth was awesome. The one who should have been a "problem" was the least of the problems. Go figure.

The trip is over but the journey continues.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In My Father's House There are Many Mansions...

In John 14:2, the Christian Bible reads "My Father's house has many rooms." This verse, actually a prooftext for Trinitarian Christianity, is not one you'll hear often in UU selections from the New Testament. And, actually, upon study of the Greek, a closer reading would be, My father's house has many mansions...

How can a house have mansions? The writer, alleged to be John, was trying to express an idea of the afterlife, where all souls would be compensated for their earthly faithfulness. When I read this passage, I hear a loving Jesus taking words from the Hebrew texts to comfort his followers about his imminent demise. I am going to be with our Father, and soon we will be together again.

Unitarians and Universalists don't focus upon the afterlife, so I'm going to take these words a bit differently. I've been living in my own father's house since August, the one he bought in about 1950 when he and his brother were both bachelors.

Let me just say that in this house there are many mansions with many, many rooms full of memories both wonderful and dreadful, and that all of them have been swirling about me in these past months, living here again after forty years of living in other places.

This is my room.. it used to to be my older brother's room. He read, a lot, and now he's an English professor. I won't talk about his memories, because they are his own, but I will say that my mother died in this room when my twin sister and I were 5 and our brother was 7.

This screened porch is the place where I read so many books as a young girl. There's a wisteria outside that my dad planted. I sometimes slept out on this porch in summer.

Nearby is a park now. I walk there frequently, and think about things. I marvel about getting older, time passing, and how different it would have been if that park were there when I was young. A place to go with my thoughts and dreams and wonderings.
Places: New Jersey has its own culture, and I never even realized this until I was away. Diners, drive-ins, fresh seafood, real pizza, lots of authentic Italian food, a certain attitude, the way people drive, a great directness and loyalty about the people. I never even knew how much I missed it. Part of me never wants to leave again.

This is my home. 

Most of all, these are my people.

There's even a Jazzercise less than 2 miles from my father's house! Remarkably, the house and our 4 acres is pretty much the same, but the surrounding community has grown, so I can access almost anything I want. Still, it feels pretty rural, and within a short drive, I'm back in the Pinelands.

Make new friends, but keep the old. This is Julie, I LOVE her! She's just the greatest woman I've met in Kentucky, and I've lived there fifteen years. 
Julie reminds me of the friends I had when I was a young mom, and had to move away from.. so smart & wise and thoughtful and authentic. So interested in ideas and not what she has or how she looks (although se is very lovely anyway :)


Back in New Jersey, I'm getting to spend time with some of my oldest and most wonderful friends. This is Linda, and no, were were not at Downton Abbey,  just at an exhibit in Delaware. I don't know whether it was me, or Kentucky, but I never had woman friends that I just hung out with and did things with. Here I've been out to breakfast and dinner and the movies, making cookies, and lots more with my old friends. And I'm looking forward to connecting with more of them. I asked myself what all of my most beloved friends had in common. Absolutely, all of them are people who love to learn, are interested in life and people, and who don't judge, who are genuine and whose hearts and  intentions are sincere. I have been so blessed to have such friends!

This Thanksgiving, we were all here at my father's house. All except my oldest son Casey. I've had a chance to reconnect with my stepmom as she struggles with early dementia, and with my younger sister. I've been closer to my daughter who is in Massachusetts. 

Best of all. I've had the space and the time to wander through the many mansions in my father's house. There are locked doors, long, dusty corridors, beautiful courtyards, quiet nooks, and disturbing haints. It's a good time to do this wandering, and wondering, and the mansions are vast.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


I don't know.

I thought it was me. I spent one whole day reading everything. I trolled Facebook and read all the recommended articles (granted, my friend list has pretty much narrowed itself down to liberals and progressives). I even watched TV (msnbc).  I listened to NPR as I drove to and from my interim ministry an hour away. I read comments and online conversations of colleagues in ministry. I lay around contemplating and wondering, praying and just trying to absorb it all, just letting my heart expand to take it in. I couldn't stop watching, and reading, and listening. I cried.

What I didn't do was have conversations with any actual live people. 

I think I just didn't feel that I could take it if they said something awful, or disparaging about Ferguson, or about the protesters. I didn't expect anyone in my congregation to do this. I believe, in fact I know, that they have done and are doing the work. They are actively working to become anti-racist. I feel confident that I can speak to them this Sunday without fear or anxiety. That is not how all my colleagues, even in our very liberal Unitarian Universalist churches, feel about this issue. Many have already been questioned, maligned, and verbally assaulted for speaking out and speaking up. So I know that I am blessed and that I have been blessed in the congregations I have served. And: I take some credit as well. I don't ever let racism go un-addressed.

That's Melissa Harris-Perry. You know that. I saw her in Lexington, KY last year with my daughter. I'm holding her book, Sister Citizen.  Until this week, I hadn't read it. It was up at Smith College with Marjorie. She tackles every topic related to women of color, power, politics, and black motherhood... a fabulous piece of work. She writes at length about Michelle Obama, some complimentary, some not so much.

This is a bit off track, but simply the fact that this very week someone had the nerve to criticize his teenage daughters for what they wore and their expressions as if they were somehow common trashy people... just shows the way that people have treated the Obama family from day One. It amazes me that the President and Mrs. Obama have endured it with so much grace and elan.

But Melissa H-P is writing about women, and how they respond to racism, both personal and institutional. As I read her words, it came to me that I would address the Brown decision (and then, as I wrote my homily, the Garner case hit the news) through the lens of a mother's eyes.. a white mother who has evolved slowly to feel deeply the pain and suffering of women and mothers of color. I would talk about my own decades long journey, one I am still on.

So, interestingly, the first live person with whom I discussed the events of the past few weeks, other than my kids, was my dear friend of 40 years, Brenda. We have known each other through marriages and divorce (mine), 7 kids and one grandchild, illness and health, and across the miles have remained close. That is all because she is such a wonderful person.

I am not a great one for keeping in touch! Funny that I'm a writer, because I'm "one poor correspondent," as the song says. She, on the other hand, is faithful and always thoughtful... never forgets an occasion or fails to make time for a visit when I'm in town if she is at home.

There are so many examples of synchronicity in our friendship. Even the way we met, working at a restaurant at the shore, then met up again when our husbands were in a wedding together, and then, after many more decades, ran into one another at STONEHENGE (see picture) when neither of us even knew the other was traveling to the UK... in fact, we were on the same very small tour of 6 people who went out to Stonehenge together.

After Eric and I adopted Seth, Brenda was so supportive. She'd always sent Marjorie little gift packages at holidays and now Marj was grown, but she resumed doing so with Seth. She has an Autistic nephew, so she knew just how to please him and make him feel welcomed and relaxed when ever we visited New Jersey. During the years that we went through his "I want to be a girl" phase, she even gave him a Barbie doll. So... wonderful friend.

Our religious beliefs are somewhat different, as she is more of an orthodox Christian, but I could see as years went by that she became more and more open to understanding and accepting all the different ways people had of approaching God and of being in touch with what they understood to be holy. I recall that once she told me she'd gone to Buddhist meditation at a nearby monastery. 

So, really, I should have been prepared for what she told me today.

I hadn't seen her since I've returned to New Jersey, so we had breakfast and talked for two hours! At that, we could have talked longer. But it was she who brought up Ferguson. She said that it was just weighing upon her so heavily and that she and her husband had been discussing it. She spoke about her sister, who has been a police officer in Texas for decades, and how she had just been thinking so much about all of it and all the way back to slavery.

And then she said, I just feel that we have to pay Black people. We have to make reparation for slavery. Just like what was done for victims of the Holocaust. For Vietnam. It will never begin to be right until we go back and get that right.

I was just flummoxed. Here I am, reading Facebook posts from UU ministers who have people in their congregations who don't even agree that we should be saying #blacklivesmatter and my beautiful, loving, compassionate friend, whom I thought was a little bit conservative, is talking about the MOST radical idea, thank you very much: reparations.

We talked some more. I shared with her my ideas for my sermon: how I had come to see that even though my early years were very much passively racist in that there was no exposure to persons of color until I went to high school, and my father especially made it clear that African American people were unwelcome in our home. I told her how it was literature that first opened my eyes and heart. In fact, it was a short story by Eudora Welty called A Worn Path. There came a huge shift in my consciousness that day.

She then shared with me that when she was in college, she made a collage of happy faces. A Black woman sitting next to her asked her why there weren't any black faces in her collage. She replied that she guessed there weren't any in the magazines she read. She went on to ruminate about this. For both of us, these were moments which shattered the white world we had walked in. I suspect they are given to every white person. The difference is that some of us allow them to awaken us. This moment, as we shared these memories, was so profound. I pray that every Caucasian person have such a conversation.

I went to Trader Joe's. I went to Shop Rite. I took my stepmom to the bank. I saw Black people and I felt like I could look them in the eye. I felt so much love, such an open, open heart. It was real.

And so the world spins on. Don't count anyone out. We're all marching toward love. We're going to get there. Let's keep pulling one another along, however we can.