Posted by: jevcat | February 3, 2014

De Amicitia

Make new friends, but keep the old

One is silver, the other gold.

A circle is round, it has no end

That’s how long, I will be your friend.

 

When I was a child, my mother taught me this old friendship round that she had learned in Girl Scouts, and we would sing it together.  When I was older, Mom, who was something of a Latin scholar in high school, introduced me to Cicero.  I never got to be the Latinist she was, but I, too, came to love Cicero, although I read him in translation rather than stumble through the original, and I preferred his essay On Friendship (De Amicitia) to the Orations Against Cataline.  In college, I discovered mediaeval history, and some of the wonderful writing on friendship by people such as Aelred of Rievaulx and the vexing Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who could write so beautifully and be so beastly.

Perhaps because I had no friends until I was five, friendship has always been important to me, and in recent months, that old round has been running through my head – ever since this fall, actually, because in September and November old friends who have long lived outside of New York City were here to visit.  It was so very good to share time with them again, and so hard when they returned to their present homes.

There’s nothing quite like being with old friends – it’s like taking off your dress shoes and slipping into your oldest, most comfortable slippers:  it says you’re home.  It’s not that the old and familiar can’t occasionally surprise, but that’s part of the delight of old friendships:  You like that, too?  How did I never know that?  What fun!

But every new discovery is undergirded with the deep richness and inexpressible comfort of shared history – all of those “remember when”s that bind us, because no one else could understand:  the difficult times we got through because we had each other, the knowledge of which makes us stronger even now, years later; the adventures that turned out just fine – or made good stories for telling after the dust settled; the funny stories, the memory of which can still make us laugh, over and over, sometimes when we need it most.  An old friendship is a treasure trove that never runs out, always there with what we need, when we need it.

Old friends are the ones who’ve shared the most with us, the ones with whom no explanations are necessary, with whom, as one dear friend once said to me, “We know each other’s stories.”  At the time, I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head, until it grew into a poem – one I’m glad I got a chance to show her before she died.  And, while one friendship may have generated it, it is true of a precious few others that go back so many years now.

Each Other’s Stories

“We know each other’s stories,” she said,

Sending my mind scuttling backwards

<!–
          down pathways that ran parallel,

                    if not always together.

We know each other’s stories—

The histories blending into myths that families tell each other

          around holiday tables, and at wakes.

We know each other’s stories, too,

As the women we became

          through the years that separated—

                    yet bound—

          the girls who first saw something that

                    was not “other” in another’s eyes.

Artist and writer, tellers of stories both,

We know their power, ancient and new,

          gnostic alchemy, turning friendship living gold.

“Yes,” I said, “We know each other’s stories.”

-->

Posted by: jevcat | February 2, 2014

Sea Changes

Life, like the sea, both changes and remains the same.  It’s been a long time since I had time to write or post, and I don’t really now, but a conversation with a friend led to my thinking about something I wrote (to my astonishment, as long as 15 years ago!), that still remains true to me and, I think, to her, so I thought I’d post it, along with a photo that I believe was taken by my Beloved, who also has the sea in his blood.

IMAGE_004

Let Me Grow Old by the Sea

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

the soft swells whispering

of new life to come,

the salt breeze carrying the tang

of worlds and oceans

yet to explore.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

the surge of the storm

and the gentle lapping waves

speak of the same cycle

of power and calm,

death and rebirth.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

where the serene arc

of the gull in flight

and its raucus call

are halves

of the same whole.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

let me close my eyes

to the dazzle

of sunlight on water

moonlight on wave

and wake to life and worlds unknown.

Posted by: jevcat | July 28, 2013

Summer Sunday

Sleeping Oz

A quiet, chilly summer Sunday,

where greyness chases shy sun across the sky – and mostly wins –

a desultory breeze flits through the window,

and there is time for tea and cinnamon toast,

to read and doze

and watch the birds play hide-and-seek between the branches,

and it feels like a dream-memory,

the morning swim a travel in time

back to days

bereft of worry, fear, and ceaseless obligations.

Tomorrow I’ll be a grown-up again,

but just now,

an open book beckons,

there’s a cat needs petting

and a human to cuddle against for a while longer.

I’ll  s t a y.

//

Posted by: jevcat | June 30, 2013

On Quiet Celebration

Image

There’s something healing in a gentle summer rain.  I knew this even as a child, when a rainy afternoon would spark me to sing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Rain on the Roof” over and over to myself or anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path – I even had a bunch of gestures I’d choreographed to illustrate the words, which my long-suffering mother had the grace not to laugh at or appear bored with, no matter how many times I performed them.

As I’ve gotten older, I think I appreciate the respite of a rainy afternoon even more.  It refreshes, but it also reminds me of things I tend to forget:  that things that look dark can nurture good things; that moisture – including tears – can nurture and nourish; that perpetual sun would not, after all, be a good thing; that gifts can come in unexpected ways; that it’s good, once in a while, to stop and stand still, open to receiving whatever may fall.

So today, at home on Staten Island, tethered to a computer and freelance work (which I do both need and normally enjoy) when I would have been in Manhattan with my friends, celebrating summer, victories won, love, and friendships that “remember when,” the pit-pat of the drops, the sh-sh-sh of the rainy leaves in the slight breeze, tell me that celebrations need not be noisy, and that quiet, stillness, and  time for just listening, savoring, then getting on with what needs doing, are important, too.  And, after all, rainbows make no sound.

Posted by: jevcat | March 19, 2013

The Wide Wildness

Acadia National Park, Maine.  Photo by Roger Bingler.

Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo by Roger Bingler.

I didn’t make it to church last Sunday, but the week before we sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and I’ve been humming it ever since.

This is not really a problem, because it’s a hymn I’m fond of (which isn’t always the case with the more modern tunes), but it’s got me thinking, because when I first heard it, years ago (and had not yet seen the text), I thought the first words were, “There’s a wildness in God’s mercy, like the wildness of the sea … ”

While mercy may not generally be thought of as wild, the idea appeals to me, and I’m not sure I don’t like it better than the “real” version, because it has a feeling of something untamed, and I don’t think God is tame-able – though God knows, we try.  There’s a human tendency to want to make God manageable – we are creatures who want to be in control.  We want to think that if we say the right words, do all the right things, pray in the right way, everything will be the way we want it to be.  If that were true, a lot of Bible stories would be different, and faith would not really be necessary.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, and another hymn I love is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” which I say every morning.  I’ve never forgotten something I read about it – I think in a book on it by the Rev. Andrew Greeley.  It said that when St. Patrick made his prayer, he was in a situation where he knew he might be attacked and killed.  The prayer was not to be safe, but that whatever did happen, God would be with him in it and through it:  however wild the situation got, it would not be too wild for God’s presence.

Perhaps that (and my life in recent years) explains why I’d rather sing about “the wildness of God’s mercy” – and why I so love the Celtic blessing I know from The New Zealand Prayer Book, where it appears as the “Sentence of the Day” for Friday in the service of Night Prayer (Compline):

 The blessing of God, the eternal goodwill of God, the shalom of God, the wildness and the warmth of God, be among us and between us, now and always.

Posted by: jevcat | February 18, 2013

Jonah’s Tantrum

The daily lectionary starts off Lent with an Ash Wednesday reading from Jonah (3:1-4:11).  We’re past the whale here and beyond children’s Sunday School story territory – though not beyond childish behavior.  Jonah, left without any other real option, gives in and goes to Ninevah to preach doom, destruction, and repentance – and the people of Ninevah, whether from true remorse or enlightened self-interest, do repent, so God spares them – which was God’s intent all along, as Jonah well knew.

God’s mercy does not sit well with Jonah.  (He is not alone in this; far too many of us want mercy for ourselves but not for people different from us — it’s for us, not them, and bring on the schadenfreude and that wonderful sense of being justified and righteous.)  So Jonah is angry and does what any self-respecting spoiled child would do:  he gets all petulant and pouts.  And he’s justified:  all that work, going up and down the city telling them all how wicked they are, and God doesn’t even have the decency to stand behind what he’s told Jonah to tell the Ninevites and destroy them.  Arms crossed, back turned, “Humph!” says Jonah, “I wanna’ die – go ahead, kill me.”

God is, I suspect, as amused and exasperated as any parent dealing with this sort of behavior, and asks gently, “Do you do well to be angry?”  God had been a parent for a long time even then and should have known better.  No kid wants to answer that sort of question accurately, and neither does Jonah.  He just stomps up to a place with a view of the city and plops down in hopes of getting to watch a good show if God does follow through and destroy the city.  Maybe if he does this, God will feel obliged to destroy it – justice meted out with a satisfying (for the watcher) impartiality.

By this point, if I were God, I’d be more tempted to thump Jonah than anyone in Ninevah, but God is a progressive sort of parent, and still trying to lead Jonah to see the right of things on his own.  So God has a plant grow to shade Jonah.  Things are going well now, Jonah must think, feeling like a baseball fan in possession of a stadium seat with unobstructed view but just under an overhang for shelter from direct sun or rain.  But then God sends a worm to kill the plant and a hot wind, besides.

Detail of Jonah window from Christ Church College, Oxford, borrowed from http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/cathedral/visitor-information/what-to-look-for/stained-glass

Detail of Jonah window from Christ Church College, Oxford, borrowed from http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/cathedral/visitor-information/what-to-look-for/stained-glass

Now that things are uncomfortable, God asks again, “Do you do well to be angry?” and gets the sulky reply, lip stubbornly stuck out, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.  So there.”  (The Bible does not actually add “so there,” but I am fairly certain Jonah would have said it.  Or the Hebrew equivalent.)

Sometimes, the kid is just not going to “get” it, no matter what you do.  So God finally tells Jonah, “You have pity for the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, … And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city?”  I think this is again God trying to lead Jonah to better behavior – I sincerely doubt Jonah pitied the plant; he pitied only himself, and I’m afraid I have been in that position, too.

And that’s where the story ends.  The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jonah ever grew up and learned to think of anyone beside himself, stopped wanting to see other people punished (even if some of them are actually innocent) rather than wanting to see them move on to something better.  Maybe that’s because people in general are still trying (or not trying) to learn that lesson, and it’s not that far from “Yes, I do well to be angry” to “Crucify him!”

Posted by: jevcat | January 13, 2013

Epiphany Wonderings

Jutta's Stars-2

It’s Epiphany season, and although (or perhaps because) I wound up not getting to church last Sunday for the big celebration, the thought of Epiphany has been floating in the back of my mind, periodically bobbing up and down, all week, maybe sort of like that star the Three Kings followed.

I can’t imagine dropping everything to follow a star.  I’m a nester; I’ve moved only once in my life, 27 years ago, and I think I’m still traumatized.  In some ways, though, I’m a follower:  I prefer to work in the background and generally am uncomfortable being in the spotlight.  And I try, not especially successfully, I fear, to be a follower of Jesus.

But we all follow something or someone, I think, even those of us who lead – follow many things, in fact, in different ways.  And what we follow says a lot about us and who we are.

So I guess what I’ve been trying to figure out this week is:  what star(s) am I following? (other than see above).  Do I know what my goal is (come to think of it, did the Magi know? — They thought they did, but I rather suspect what they found wasn’t what they expected, which may be true for many of us).  What does what I follow that say about me?  Do I like the direction?  Does it feel right?  Where has it lead me?  And, perhaps most important, should I be going home by another way?

//

Posted by: jevcat | January 6, 2013

Epiphany 2006

A re-post, for the season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wandered far

chasing chimeras,

will-o-wisps,

there and gone

 

A bit of light,

a firefly,

there and gone.

 

No pillar of fire –

nothing so certain –

flickering candles…

Were they there at all?

There and gone.

 

We followed, with hope

there and gone.

 

So busy we were, in our moth-lives,

we might have missed it,

the star,

there and gone.

 

But we saw,

we ourselves

there and gone,

and home by another way.

 

Leading light,

there and not gone,

not then,

not now,

not ever.

 

Oh light-split night

no dawn so bright

Darkness rent

night spent

Glory.  Glory.

//

Posted by: jevcat | January 5, 2013

Things I Have Learned from Our Puppy

This fall – just two days before hurricane Sandy – my Beloved and I took possession of a then-12-week-old golden retriever puppy to train as a service dog for him, taking over from our wonderful Sam in the next year or so, with Sam moving on my Beloved’s family in Maine, one of both of their favorite spots, and a second career as a therapy dog.

We (including Sam and the cats) have spent the time since adjusting to life together and beginning the training of the puppy, whom we named Charlie.  This has been a learning experience for all of us, not just Charlie, and I would like, as a new year’s gift, to share some of those learnings:

It’s okay to lean on a friend

Lean on Me-Sam & Charlie_2-Crop

Treat everyone as a friend unless they prove otherwise

Sometimes a little dancing is good for you (photo)

Charlie Dancing with Kate

Take the time to sniff the roses – and everything else, too

Position is everything in life

Charlie Asleep Upside Down

Running around in circles doesn’t get you anywhere

Cat naps are not just for cats (and peaceful co-existence can work)

Family Nap

 Life is an adventure – go for it!

//

Posted by: jevcat | November 4, 2012

Sandy on Staten Island

Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.

(652-Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Hymnal 1982)

Well, we didn’t get the earthquake.

It has been an interesting week in Staten Island, New York.

With hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Northeast, last Saturday my Beloved and I picked up our new puppy, who will be trained to take over for his aging service dog, and a friend and I drove to our favorite shopping place, nearby in Bayonne, New Jersey, to stores that may no longer be there.  It was already overcast, with multiple layers of clouds flying by in sometimes different directions.

Sunday clouds continued to build, as did wind, and there were scattered showers.  We made sure elderly twins in our building had food, visited an elderly friend in assisted living, battened down the hatches, taped the windows, and settled in to the background howl of the wind.  I baked a batch of butterscotch blondies, half with chocolate chips, while we still had power, which we were sure we would lose before it was over.

There wasn’t as much rain as hurricane Irene last year – which meant our bedroom window frame didn’t leak as much and we didn’t have ponding in our bedroom.  But the wind was worse, not just howling but literally shaking our six-story brick apartment building.  It had reached Irene levels with the storm still 500 miles away, which was unsettling, to say the least.

Monday, we watched on CNN and the Weather Channel as the storm moved closer – and fielded a phone call from my best friend, now in Houston, announcing:  “You guys are screwed.  Jim Cantore [Weather Channel] is in Battery Park.  If Jim Cantore is where you are, you’re screwed.” – which at least made us laugh.  I began to seriously wonder if our windows would hold [spoiler alert:  they did].

My Beloved chose his times to walk the dogs, trying for brief lulls between bands.  Monday evening, with many lights already out in our neighborhood, I went with him to help.  The cats and adult dog had been uneasy in the storm but the puppy, even out in the darkened street, was cheerfully oblivious, trying to jump on top of the older dog, trotting along, chasing blowing leaves, his ears flying in the wind.  An 11-week old puppy can lighten the heart through anything.

Back home, watching the green fire that periodically lit the sky like the aurora borealis as transformers blew all around us, keeping touch with friends and family with texts and e-mails, we began to hope we might, after all, not lose power.  Then the lights blinked on and off twice, and went out.

For the next three days, solar and battery-powered flashlights and radios gave light and information, and a phone charger let us have minimal outside contact.

Tuesday dawned windy, but with the worst over, and we walked the dogs along what was left of the waterfront – at least until the cops chased us.  What we saw was devastation.  Living on a hill (most folks don’t realize Staten Island has the highest natural point between Maine and Florida), we had never been afraid of flooding, but flooding was what had done the worst damage on the shore.  Heavy wooden benches with hurricane strapping had been tossed, large old trees uprooted from saturated earth, seawall vanished.

We ran into two ladies from a waterfront development who had not heeded the evacuation order, heading for the local precinct to ask for police protection and clearing of the roads down to them, which were blocked.  They told us floating beams had smashed through the windows of first floor apartments, demolishing them.  Walking over there, we saw concrete ripped off the exterior of at least one building, rebar exposed.  The walkway along the water was gone or sunken in spots, so no one dared to use it.

When we got home, a neighbor who is also a dear friend knocked on our door for help with his roommate’s medical emergency, his own cell phone being dead.  We called 911, and my Beloved, a former EMT, struggled up three flights of stairs with his crutch to offer assistance while I ran down to meet the ambulance and guide them up the six flights to the apartment.  After the medical folks took the patient to hospital, I followed with our elderly friend in my car, driving around fallen trees and downed power lines, and cautiously edging past intersections with darkened traffic lights.  We were glad that the hospital, in a flood and evacuation zone, was powered and operating.  (The patient, in the early stages of a stroke, is now fine and back home.)  Later, taking a different route home, we saw flotsam and jetsam left when the water had covered the main street, which is a bit more than a block from the water.

A nearby friend never lost power, so I spent my days at her place, charging the charger, phones, and laptop, walking home and up the stairs by flashlight.  Evenings, we ate catch-as-can, candlelight dinners from the slowly warming fridge with our neighbor.  Power came back Thursday evening, announced as I “charged” at my friend’s, by the caller ID on my phone lighting up with my home phone number, and I greeted my Beloved with a joyful “It’s back!”

For us, it was challenging and sometimes dangerous, but not, in the end, much more than an inconvenience and some degree of financial hardship.  For the shore communities of Staten Island and New Jersey, it was, for many, if not the end of the world, the end of theirs, in some cases literally, in others it might as well have been.  No one I know died, but my auto mechanic’s girlfriend lost her home and everything in it – still leaving her better off than the three people on her block who died (all of whom would be alive if they had heeded the evacuation order).

I think even those of us who got off easy will be a long time processing what happened.  I have no answers (except maybe, if the government tells you to evacuate, you evacuate).  But I listen for the stillness at the heart of the storm, and look for what I can do to help.
Because I had difficulty uploading them, some of these photos are out of order.  (The dog pictures are because I couldn’t resist.)

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