Spring Is Icumen In…

Although my friends and family to the north received snow this week, we did not. Rain and the unseasonable warmth we’ve experienced all winter continues, and lead the spirit’s need for color and blooms and scents and birdsong to dreams of spring…every so often I find myself turning to images that remind me of what’s coming, and it seems a good day for sharing a few of these images in hopes they brighten your spirits, too. May the sweet rains wash away gloom and loosen ties to anything that doesn’t serve our healing and wholeness…

 

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Going Inside to Play: In Praise of Idleness

The hardest work is to go idle.  ~ Yiddish Proverb

Ages ago, when I was a very young college student studying theater arts, a few of our professors encouraged meditation in differing forms, but always with the purpose of drawing our attention inward, to a place centered and still. The creative process is such a mystery that it requires these journeys inward for excavation, image work, listening, and synthesis. But this is also as true of life itself, for everyone, and always.

I have friends who yearn to meditate and engage with it as a practice but who can “never find the time,” and this breaks my heart, because I know how hard they work –almost nonstop—day in and day out, and how rarely they play or even allow hallowed moments of “non-work” to exist and open up their lives to possibilities of stillness and the kind of renewal it alone brings us.

 Who has taught us to punish ourselves so earnestly? What is it we fear in encounters with the self? How true is it, finally, to equate our worth with our productivity and “busyness?” Why on earth, while we’re on earth, wouldn’t we deserve regular times of peace and quiet? What has made us so blind to the need for balance?

Why is our first impulse to condemn idleness? Part of it is due to our American heritage, I suppose, and the Protestant work-ethic that people pledge allegiance to without the introspection or reflection a mosquito gives its next bite; some of it results from bad religion, handed down and accepted without question; a good bit is derived from unique family dysfunctions that become the rhythms to which we dance till/unless we learn better music and tempos, but all of it is nonsense and fear-based. And the imbalance generated by “nose to the grindstone” thinking and behavior makes us ill, so very ill in body, mind, and spirit.

A perusal of quotes regarding “idleness” is illuminating. Among others, Kierkegaard, Chekhov, and Virginia Woolf agree that me that idleness is necessary to our health as humans; many others view it with fear and disdain—not surprising in the world we’ve created. (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/idleness.html) Idleness is not the same as indolence to me, though they are used as synonyms. Neither is “work,” as in engaging with our gifts and passions, synonymous with “busyness,” that cultural frenzy with lists and tasks and always ensuring one is a human doing and never a human being. Engagements with our passions brings us to the center and we lose track of time; busyness causes stress because it so effectively binds us to time and keeps us away from the voice and needs of our spirit.

It is lovely and necessary to create, to work hard, to use our innate giftedness, and to produce something that makes the world, the community, or family, or self, the better for having done it. But this activity and the energy expended require fruitful balance in peace, introspection, reflection, and stillness. The avoidance of this—working “harder” and running faster to evade the still small voice within—is diseased and, at its core, “inhumane.”

For several years, I worked as a chaplain in a heart hospital and came to know the “types” who frequently became patients there: the over-achievers, who whipped out their laptops and cellphones within hours after life-saving surgeries; the people so steeped in denial of their brokenness or grief that their hearts just gave out from being so cruelly “silenced;” those who were non-compliant with prescribed self-care regimens, who routinely “forgot” to take medications or engage in exercise that would restore health; and those who never considered they were spirit as well as body, and that life was transcendent as well as empirical.

I always recall one of my patients, a retired and eminent heart surgeon, who could perceive no connection between his own heart attack and the fact it occurred on the day of his wife’s funeral. He could not accept that grief or loss had any place in his well-being, and was most anxious to leave the hospital and get home to finish necessary tasks he had set out for himself. We cope and grieve differently, and in our own time, but this tenacious avoidance of connecting dots and feeling feelings was something I observed frequently in heart patients.

This is not to blame the patient for the illness: most of us do the best we can till we know better, and our bodies are machines that weaken for many, many reasons, but there is often a connection between illness and a lifetime of beliefs and the behavior patterns they choreograph.

And the thing is, our beliefs and patterns never change unless we name them, review them, assess and evaluate them through reflection and introspection…and change. And this requires what appears to be “idleness.” We need daily recess: playtime and dream dates with our spirits, and connections with the Sacred within and without.

Meditation isn’t tricky. You don’t need to travel anywhere, earn a degree, pay a lot of money, or understand another language to meditate. Books and classes are available: so is a floor—or chair—where you can sit, close your eyes, and breathe for five minutes twice a day, and then, maybe longer. Do it with a friend or do it alone. Be kind to yourself; accept your feelings; heal.

Over the years I’ve continued to meditate and explore what that means for me. As I’ve aged, my stillness practices have only expanded, and all of them can be meditative: Centering prayer, mindfulness practices, walking or biking the trail, dreamwork, sitting with the 4-leggeds, walking a labyrinth, mandala creation and meditations, sitting meditation with and without images, breathwork, photography and gardening, canoeing the river, yoga and yoga prayer, journaling, soup-making, and (yes) housecleaning—all can help me to still and focus, release negative energy and open my spirit to needed healing and joy.

There are days I prefer music and days I need silence; days when I must move, and days when stillness beckons. And there are days when lying on a blanket beneath lovely clouds or a field of stars is mandatory playtime. Don’t look for “rules” regarding how and where, or when you meditate; do look at your need for rules.

For almost 40 years, meditation has saved me, over and over, from tipping into the illness of imbalance or calling me back from it, and I have learned so much about myself and the need for balance.

“Namaste” is the beautiful Hindu word for encounter: used as a word to bless both our greetings and partings, it means, “the Holy/Sacred in me recognizes and is grateful for the Holy/Sacred in you.” One way to begin to slow down is to use this word purposefully, whether silently or out loud, as we move through the day. Seek balance. Let yourself become a human being as often as you are a human doing.

Idleness is the Spirit’s playground.

 

A little while alone in your room
will prove more valuable than anything else
that could ever be given you.
~Rumi

 I have collected dozens of meditation books, but a few I return to frequently and still, are:

 Meditation for Life, by Martine Batchelor

Meditation for the Love of It, by Sally Kempton

Meditation, by Richard W. Chilson

God Makes the Rivers to Flow, by Eknath Easwaran

 As I’ve mentioned before, Spiritual Literacy, by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, can guide you towards many ways of deepening through self-reflection. The DVD series derived from this book is a wonderful resource for “visual and aural” meditations. Or, visit their website: www.spiritualityandpractice.com

 Here’s Fr. Thomas Keating, offering an introduction to Centering Prayer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IKpFHfNdnE

And here is a wonderful resource for heart care through meditation, backed by years of scientific testing and research: www.heartmath.com

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Entering the Holy Flow

We received a lovely snowfall, a baptism of huge wet flakes that spiraled to earth and settled in mounds of glittering crystal. It began last night and ended as the sun rose, which is when I headed out in Phillip’s huge boots to listen to the world through my camera.

When I was eight, I received an old Kodak box camera from my grandfather. I think it required 110 film, and even then I preferred black and white images.

Love at first click, and forever enchanted, I said yes to a lifelong passion. It is one I never interrupted with formal classes or instruction (although those who view my photographs have often hinted such training might technically and artistically advance my use of the camera and images I create).

But that’s the thing with avocation (“a calling away”); it isn’t formal at all. It’s deeply intuitive, and sensual, and private. My camera and I have a relationship like any artist has with her tools: photography is one way I make love to the world, and who wants interruptions from “professionals” when she’s making love?

For me, time with my camera, like time in the garden, is a form of holy engagement. The world is always revealing, bearing, translating, and sharing communications from Spirit; I know this is true. Most of our lives, I think, are spent sending and receiving messages within a sadly constrained and diminished end of the language spectrum. We hold our lives, others, and the Sacred in such small and indifferent regard, as though love, life, and meaning could be neatly and summarily corralled only by words and behaviors of our own invention.

When we engage in art of any kind, we’re called away from false interactions. We shatter these ego-created boundaries, both the singular and collective, and let the world and Spirit speak to us and through us in other languages, those which our hearts have always understood and beyond the boundaries that separate us from self and other.

When I leave a film, or dance, or play, or art exhibit, and the first tendency of my companions is to analyze the feelings and responses washing over us, I leave them, too.

Everything doesn’t have to be put into my words, or yours. Everything doesn’t need to be evaluated, packaged, and labeled. We are still, always, at least in part, wild and in wilderness, and that is wonderful. And terrifying. And delightful.

When I set out with my camera, the world speaks in what is and isn’t language; it’s closer to music, and requires deep listening. Slowly, my learned language leaves me; the inchoate within finds resonance with dust, and wind, and angles of light. A kind of emotional and spiritual articulation emerges as I interact with the Sacred through my camera and enter the holy flow… The tree branches may begin the story, and then the birdsong continues until the river and clouds conclude a chapter in two voices. Patterns and rhythms, sometimes synchronized and at other times in syncopation (but always perfect), begin to create meaning, and I know I’m woven into this story as tightly, tenderly, and purposefully as hawk and stone.

When I am anxious, distracted, or rushing through my life and the world, I am utterly disconnected from these songs and stories all around me. But when my camera and I set out, my thoughts still and my spirit opens her doors and windows, and the Holy rushes in with messages about how we are loved and made to love.

I read a wonderful story this week about a woman named Vivian Maier, whose photographs were discovered posthumously. Thousands of photos were discovered by a young relator who—thankfully—recognized their value. These photographs were taken over the course of Vivian’s life, which was largely lived in the shadows of the wealthy families she served, caring for their children. I understand Vivian’s need to record and engage, and I understand her choice to leave the photos, once developed, in boxes. The finished photograph isn’t the point; the point is to make love to the world however and whenever we can.

http://motherjones.com/photoessays/2011/04/vivian-maier-chicago-street-photography/crying_boy

 

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer  ~ Walt Whitman

When I heard the learned astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When, I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Coming Back to Earth

 

You shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our journeying
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
~ T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” Four Quartets (1942)

To hear the song of the reed everything you have ever known must be left behind.  ~ Rumi

I always come to a point in the winter when I feel like I’m floating. Long weeks of silence and days muffled by snowfall, or the fatigue felt from hours spent wrestling with words and staring at a landscape drained of color leave me unmoored. There’s no anchor and I’m about to let go and drift away on whatever clouds offer me a ride.

And then Lent sails into port, calls me home, and grounds me once more.

 “Lent” is derived from the Old English word for springtime and refers to the lengthening hours of light now accorded us as our earth and spirits lean more profoundly towards the sun. It can be a lovely time of awakening and adjusting our orientation to Love, having metaphorically spent the winter in our spiritual hibernacula, gestating new meaning from the past year’s insights and experiences.

I’ve always treasured the season for its simplicity and compassionate length of almost seven weeks. “Take more time; cover less ground,” said Thomas Merton, and Lent’s gentle allotment of long weeks for re-awakening and renewing our connections to our Source, self, and others more deeply and authentically feels both kind and necessary. It’s like the soft voice of someone who loves us and treats us as the precious beings we are, allowing us to waken gradually and purposefully choose our new position in the ongoing dance with Love, the one relationship that dictates the health of all others in which we engage.

Lent is, therefore, a time for reassessment: we can acknowledge former choices that did not serve this relationship; we can sift, discard, and settle on a new version (“turning”) of this relationship, and so be reconciled and transformed; and of course, we can do anything else or nothing. We’re given time to decide, but the invitation comes with the implicit responsibility on our part to do the work, expend the energy, and evolve.

And certainly, Lent is a time for reassessing our image of the Holy. “Your image of God creates you,” writes Richard Rohr. What images of the Transcendent do we retain that no longer serve our growth, or are no longer congruent with our definition of Love? As Rumi says, we may need to subtract everything we’ve known to finally “hear the song of the reed.”

In many Christian churches, Lent is inaugurated with a ritual of ashes as a way of symbolically bringing followers “back to earth” after winter’s dreamy isolation, and reminding them that spiritual growth is best grounded in humility (“humus/earth”). The invitation is to set down our egos and proceed plainly and honestly.

Nothing magnificent is required on the Lenten journey; in fact, stripping away the grandiose elements of our spiritual wardrobe helps us reveal the elemental truth at its core: we are, already and always, essentially unique shards of Love/God, and asked only to translate this truth—uniquely—throughout our lives. Lent is an invitation to come home to this truth, this self that reflects the Sacred so singularly and well.

Humility is a vital companion and filter to help us recognize that this is also essentially true of everyone and everything; without humility, our egos reject our connection to all, deny Love as our Source, and assign relative values to the gifts others have come to share. A lack of humility leads to hierarchies, enslavement, us/them thinking, misuse of the earth’s resources, and a devaluation of life’s inherent sacredness.

Ashes are a beautiful symbol of our interconnection with the web of creation. In the end, we are of the earth as we are of Love; we are composed of its elements and minerals, as is all creation, and return to it when our lives have ended. Humility is our nature, and anytime we can remind ourselves of this, we come home again.

Phillip’s mother cared for her husband at the end of his life, and this loss seemed to accelerate her own dance with the gradual erasure and evaporation granted to those whom Alzheimer’s disease chooses as partners. When she was yet able, she stayed with us at times to give his sister a break from the emotional toll of caretaking.

I must clarify that the sadness experienced by this measured loss was ours. We who loved and witnessed Virginia’s “emptying” mourned it; however, Virginia retained her sweet smile and ability to endear herself to others to the end of her life. As her history and memories were subtracted, it seemed she heard the song of the reed with increasing clarity.

I have a photograph I treasure of Phillip’s mother standing near him in the garden during one of her visits. She did not know our home when she stayed with us, but she recognized Phillip as someone dimly recalled and safe, and seemed to find such peace when they touched the earth and plants together. It was clear she found a home within this experience that steadied her spirit. And every day, often several times, the conversation would repeat. “Where are we? This is your garden? You live here? Isn’t this nice!”

 Stripped of her sense of self and place, she knew she was home when she touched the earth and smelled the garden, and could sense the reassurance of Phillip’s presence and love. She was a perfect combination of dignity and humility, her austere and undiminished spirit shone purely from eyes that did not know us but rested on the earth and knew home.

That photograph—of Phillip, his mother, the garden, and our beloved dog, Idgi, off to the side—has become one of my most beloved images of God.

Somehow, after his parents’ respective memorial services, Phillip and I became the keepers of their ashes until all the siblings could gather to honor these two lives more intimately and create a ritual for peacefully taking leave of the ashes.

One August, we were all in one place, in a town with a beautiful river. Some of us went exploring and located a simple and abandoned property with a peaceful spot to gather and sit together along the river’s bank. A spontaneous and communal decision was made to finally hold our “farewell service” and everyone went off to create his or her contribution.

The next day we met at the secluded riverbank. One sister shared a verse from her Bible; another shared a poem, Phillip sang and then led us in songs his parents loved; his brother shared a poem about Queen Anne’s lace, a plant he connected with his mother. I shared a poem I’d written about ashes and love. Stories were shared, and laughter, and song…all in simple and genuine gratitude for parents whose lives were marked by humility and guided by Love.

We set small candles in the little cardboard boats we’d fashioned, and sprinkled some of the ashes within, lighting the candles, then sending the boats gently off into the flowing embrace of the river, and scattering the remaining ashes along the riverbank, with a blessing and farewell.

Every Lent in all the years since, I recall this “Ash Tuesday,” our meeting and parting at the river, this sweet goodbye, and the deep bond of love I felt for those gathered and for the two spirits sailing off and, at the end of all their journeying, returning home.

May your Lenten journey grace you with humility, ground your spirit, and lead you home. 

On Saying Goodbye at the River in August

The weary world turns

And burns away life

To ash.

The flame that remains

Is love.

The wild world winds

And grinds away life

To ash.

The song that goes on

Is love.

Blessed lives seed goodness.

A garden of grace, a family, a world,

Love’s unending genesis

Passed on…

Passed on

To death, to life,

To ashes, to life,

To dust returned and life renewed,

Spirits free of matter,

Sloughing off the stuff of stars,

Life revolving, love’s revolution,

Wild, turning, whirling world

By love alone survived.

And we, the fruits of your love,

Plant you as fruit for the earth,

Again and again

Resurrected

And ground to ash.

We consecrate the grinding,

Life to ashes,

Yet not wholly:

Holy lives

Make holy ground,

Life at rest,

But love unbound.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

 

 

Coming Out

It is never too late to become what you might have been.                                                                            ~ George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans

People have always trusted me with their stories, whether that was wise on their part or not. I remember a grade school friend trying to tell me he was gay before I even understood what that meant. I have a memory that we were leaning against the warm brick school building during an afternoon recess one lovely spring day and he began to share his feelings about another boy in class.

Maybe we were in 6th or 7th grade, and far less knowing than children are today, dressed in our uniforms (“Catholic-school-camo”) and trying to be cool. I remember his words alarming me, as though he’d suddenly lapsed into gibberish or begun revealing an advanced fluency in a foreign language, leaving me far behind in my English-only comprehension. I had no idea what he was talking about, of that I’m certain, but I can still see the anguish in his eyes and recall the immediate response of fierce protectiveness flooding my body; though, again, I had no idea what was happening. I innately knew I would attack, claws extended, anyone who deepened the pain my friend was already suffering for being “different.”

Friends and relative strangers have continued to come out to me through the years. I came to accept that there was some identifiable badge I received at birth that signaled “safe harbor” to friends burdened with this form of otherness and a need to find relief and peace.

I suppose, we all have these odd “openings” in our spirit that invite surprising revelations or secrets of one kind or another. Thankfully, I realized at an early age how sacred these exchanges are, and have tried to offer the love and support such intimacies deserve, for they were given so honestly and with such purity that one definition of sin I’ve come to understand is when we reject the invitation to witness another’s vulnerability laid bare on the world’s altar.

“May I tell you and show you who I am?”

“No.”

My parents appreciated and celebrated the arts, but didn’t actually want their daughter to pursue an artistic discipline as a career. They encouraged me to supplement my theater and English degrees with another in education, or perhaps I might also consider nursing, or even law, as professions that suited my intellectual gifts and would also ensure a life above the poverty line. They loved me and I loved them, but I caught their anxiety, or it matched my own, and I doubted I could survive if I chose a life in the arts.

I admired friends who had blazing internal loci of control, who nourished and validated their gifts regardless of whether they had the support of parents, teachers, critics, and friends, or not. They knew who they were and why they were here; there was nothing that prevented them from living authentically from the heart of this self-knowing. I wasn’t that secure, certain, or courageous, and turned towards choices and behaviors that assured approval, if not from myself than from those who mattered more in my creation of self-image.

We know where that leads: a life lived falsely can never truly make anyone happy.

I would never present the ensuing years as a tragedy, although they were initially not particularly joyful and I was not particularly alive.

Laurence G. Boldt, in Zen and the Art of Making a Living, says, “In Japan, the place where ‘the art’ is practiced is called the ‘dojo’ or ‘house of enlightenment.’ There is a popular saying. ‘The Dojo is everywhere!’ Wherever work is done in a present, conscious way, there is the house of enlightenment. Transformation is the action of both spiritual liberation and art.”

Eventually, I understood that I could make art of anything, and so I approached writing ad copy as an artist, and then teaching, and then chaplaincy, but I still identified with the job title rather than the deeper truth of my identity. I guess I needed the lengthy gestation many late-bloomers have required. The risk, of course, is that time will run out before we emerge from our safe cocoons and utter our cri d’couer; ironic, given all the years I was the vessel others chose for holding their own spirit’s true song…

And then, about six years ago, I began a graduate program, and in the first class we were asked to use one word to describe ourselves. It was surprising to hear many people identify themselves with their occupation, but not nearly as surprising as when I heard myself say, “Artist.” Immediately, the feelings of unworthiness washed over me; I felt others would feel I was pretentious and excessively egotistical. What on earth had come over me and why did I say that? Out loud? A lifetime of self-doubt and voices not my own banged around in my psyche and began their practiced parade through my heart.

And then the professor smiled, hugely, and said, “I love that!” Like magic, my words, affirmed by his, banished the voices from my spirit. And though they’ve tried to sneak back within, the eviction sign posted that day has remained and ended the appeal of my spirit as their residence.

Perhaps encouraged by the wonderful storyline in the movie Beginners, I’ve been telling friends lately that I’m “coming out” as an artist. In this film, Christopher Plummer’s character, based on writer/director Mike Mills’ own father, reveals his homosexuality to his family and friends when he is 75, and despite a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he dies while blossoming, fully himself and joyfully still becoming.

I love to watch the Monarch butterflies lay their eggs in mid-summer and have allowed milkweed to take over the garden in front of my dining room window for that reason. It smells heavenly and the intricate ball of blooms, like some lovely orb of Murano millefiori, is beautiful. The caterpillars, with their yellow and black stripes, are fun to observe, though they make the once tolerable milkweed display raggedly less acceptable. But the payoff comes when the glistening iridescence of the cocoons appears, and they hang from leaves and the deck railing like fairy decorations left for our delight. Now the daily observations become more faithful until the 10th day or so, when the fragile butterflies emerge, damp with new life and unsteady until the wings slowly uncurl, and they fly off, tender and brave.

I don’t know why, all my life, others have come to me as they’ve begun to emerge from their cocoons, or why it took me so long to spread my own wings, but I do know we’re asked to hold each other through our transformations. And we have to witness and welcome each other’s coming out, saying, “Yes, this is who you are and I love it! And I will do everything in my power to encourage you to joyfully become still and fully more of who you are.”

One fine spring morning she pierces the shroud and comes out a butterfly. That is how in us, through the darkness, deliverance is busy.  ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

The Love of the Old

“Nothing, so it seems to me,” said the stranger, “is more beautiful than the love that has weathered the storms of life…The love of the young for the young, that is the beginning of life. But the love of the old for the old, that is the beginning of—of things longer.” ~ Jerome K. Jerome, The Passing of the Third Floor Back

There were a series of robberies in Madison last week, targeting customers exiting an Apple Store with their new purchases. I learned about this watching the news that evening. The very young television reporter concluded his report by saying, “One victim was in his 80’s, and the other two were in their 50’s, so the thieves have—so far—targeted only elderly people, but all of the store’s customers should take precautions.”

I winced. It felt odd to be grouped so tightly and certainly with people three decades older than myself, all of us now and forever stamped and dismissed as “elderly.”

The next day, a friend sent me a link to poet Donald Hall’s recent essay, “Out the Window” in the January 23, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, where Hall, a former poet laureate and now 83, writes about his experience of aging and the sense of growing “invisibility” he feels. “However alert we are, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life…but most important they are permanently other…People’s response to our separateness can be callous, can be good-hearted, and is always condescending. When we turn eighty, we understand that we are extraterrestrial.” (There are excerpts from the essay and a link to Hall’s audio interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross here: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/08/146348759/donald-hall-a-poets-view-out-the-window)

I’ve already begun to sense that gradual displacement from the cultural consciousness that Hall addresses: Television shows, movies, and magazines rarely reflect the lives, interests, or concerns of people my age; however, I don’t know if this is indicative of a sociological shift or not. There’s never been a time when society’s conscious and unconscious internal imagery and preferences were projected outwardly so concretely and preponderantly as our current technology allows. I’m sure my ancestors, when they were young, preferred the companionship of their peers as well, but they pursued this in relative privacy.

I suspect that the older among us have always been invisible to the young. I know I didn’t value the wisdom, beauty, experience or presence of my elders when I was younger. Although I’ve always had friends across generations, most of my companions have been contemporaries.

This aspect of aging seems to make Hall angrier and more melancholy than I feel considering it. (But, again, he has lived a few decades longer than I, and an entirely different life. I hope I’m not cross and depressed when /if I’m 83, but I might be.) I don’t agree with him, though, that the young are “always” condescending to the old. They’re just busy doing the best they can in their current stage of life, usually with the lesser requisite experience and wisdom to do better (from our aged point of view) because they haven’t circled the sun as many times. (This is not to say that older and wiser automatically occur in partnership, but it’s what I observe in my friends and hope for myself.) With any luck and awareness, they’ll have the chances we’ve had to learn and grow and age.

I think a lot of us “freeze” our self-perception at the time we feel most vibrant and energetic in life, and carry around images of ourselves that become increasingly out-of-date with the current reality others encounter, which is one reason I’m usually startled by mirrors these days. (“Yikes! What’s wrong with that mirror?” Or “Who the hell is that old bird looking at me so intently?”) We see longtime friends and older relatives intermittently, and our inner voice confidently smirks, “Wow; s/he’s really aging…” until we see a picture of ourselves sitting beside these people and they look markedly younger than we do.

The invitations, for me, are to laugh and carry on. I try to name and celebrate the gifts of age, and develop and share humor and compassion for its miseries. There are great possibilities and freedom in being perceived as invisible, after all. Losing the self-consciousness of youth is wonderful.

And aging brings much greater gifts. I’ve always treasured antiques, old pictures, and handworn objects. Now that my relationships have gained more mileage than I once thought possible, I also increasingly value the depth and richness they offer. Sharing decades of memories, journeying together through blessing and loss, and offering each other profound peace, laughter, compassion, and true familiarity (“family”) are just some of the priceless assets of lasting relationship, and only time can offer us these.

My “old friends” inspire me. One has begun a new career. Another just earned a degree and is pursuing her many artistic gifts. One is self-employed and successful beyond anything I can imagine. One is having his first play produced. No one is about to impose age-related restrictions on these people.

Old love offers sanctuary for reflection. My dogs’ sweet faces are sprinkled with white hair, and I know every bump, scar, and worn patch on their soft bodies. Holding them, I hold as well all the years of shared adventures and their precious companionship, and I’m grateful for the countless ways their unique personalities have changed and hallowed my life.

Old love reminds us of our power and bids us to use it with tender care. I look at my husband and feel both the earned and undeserved joy of the traveler who’s found the perfect companion. We know what the other’s thinking. A look or a word can trigger laughter or pierce the heart. We rest in each other’s silences and anticipate each other’s needs. We offer balance, revitalize each other’s spirit, and value each other’s need for retreat and silence. None of this can be taken for granted; the deeper we travel into relationship, the greater the potential for damage and suffering. Hearts so profoundly merged and spirits so conjoined are never separated without endangering lives, as we’ve witnessed in our own relationships and those of others who have loved and lost.

Old love is a privilege that demands our faithfulness and worthiness, but oh, the rewards long-term relationships offer us. The idea of constancy—stability, faithfulness, reliability—is finally grasped in a love that is old.

When I was in college, I was blessed to form amazing friendships with fellow artists—as we considered ourselves and as time has proven them all to be— in the theater department. We were young, vulnerable, smart, funny, reaching, and stumbling together, co-creating the people we wanted to be. We held our own and each other’s dreams, fought, forgave, transformed, celebrated, and set out on our paths knowing these connections were forever integral to our stories.

Throughout the years (and they are now decades), we’d meet again, in two’s or three’s, to honor weddings, assist in transitions, mourn losses, and lend support. In recent years, thanks to technology, these old friendships have been renewed and strengthened. One of our friends, as I mentioned, is having a play produced, and so this week I’m traveling to New York to meet with him and many others from my merry old band of brothers and sisters, and staying with a friend I love and admire beyond words.

I cannot wait.

I know there will be the initial shock: we’re all old! And I know as well that it will pass within a few heartbeats into the deep knowing and joy that fills our being when old love welcomes us and our ageless spirits recognize, reach for, and rest in each other’s arms.

Phillip has given me the gift of this lovely journey for Valentine’s Day, assuring me we’ll celebrate with a dinner and stories when I come home; only an old love like ours knows that “things longer” are just beginning.

Happy Valentine’s Day to All!

(And something for “Old Boomer Codgers” to read while I’m away this week: http://www.alternet.org/occupywallst/153972/new_rules_for_radicals%3A_10_ways_to_spark_change_in_a_post-occupy_world)

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Tango in Winter

It’s been snowing all day and the wind has made it fierce-going on the trail, but we nonetheless managed to cross the bridge and make our way through the bluster for a rather enlivening walk. Back inside Full Moon Cottage and thawing out with some ginger green tea, I decided to make a salad for dinner, but with enough heat, depth, and bite to stand up to winter, which has made its Maria Callas re-entrance today. The lime, cilantro, and hot sauce, though, brought the energies and smells of warmer seasons to mind.

Located “Pepe and the Bottled Blondes” and “Pink Martini” CD’s: Ay-yi-yi! (Or Thai equivalent.) Look out, 4-leggeds; Mama’s gotta dance!

The salad turned out well: at any rate, I enjoyed it while studying the landscape and fantasizing amidst a pile of garden catalogues and their enticing descriptions of new flowers, vegetables, and herbs. A terrific afternoon of dreaming.

And dancing.

The snow is beautiful; the hush it brings is lovely, but tonight I think I’ll close my eyes to the white-on-white landscape and dream in the colors and flavors of gardens yet-to-come.

Salsa, anyone?

Vegetable Salad in Peanut Sauce

(Everything’s approximate in my salads, just like it is when I make soup: adjust according to your taste.)

6 T rice wine vinegar

6 T sesame or vegetable oil

1/3 C Peanut Butter (I may have used more. Organic and chunky; creamy would be fine.)

3 T of brown sugar

3 T Tamari Sauce (or Soy; Tamari is without wheat and has more soy…)

2-3 T chopped ginger and/or powdered ginger

3 chopped cloves of garlic

2-3 T lime juice

4 T Thai chili-garlic sauce (I used more)

That’s the peanut sauce: Whisk it together and adjust it to the consistency, quantity, and tastes you like.

For the salad: I mixed some:

Red and green cabbage (sliced and chopped like coleslaw)

Chopped green onions

Big bunch of cilantro (chopped).

Julienne 4 carrots and 2 sweet potatoes, and microwave them to soften before adding.

 Cook/drain/add some brown-rice noodles. (About ½ lb, or amount that suits you.)

(Could add red/green peppers, maybe an apple or two, and some soft tofu cut into small squares, or shrimp …but didn’t have these on hand today.)

¡OLÉ!

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.