The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

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Its the stuff that dreams are made of
Its the slow and steady fire
Its the stuff that dreams are made of
Its your heart and soul’s desire
-Carly Simon –

Bassel Shehadeh  1984 – 2012

The economics of war includes the very worst of all things.  More people go into a war than will come out of it. And those we think will be safe from that danger, are not. And beautiful young men with dark sparkling eyes and wise smiles so full of promise and love will never be held again.  Including a young Syrian studying film making in the United States who felt called to return home and use his skills to records the history being made in his land. Until the bomb fell on him.

Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the century before, who could have stayed in relative safety but felt his call to ministry meant being with those who suffered under Nazi oppression.  It was three months after his execution that his mother and fiancee found where he had been taken and that he was dead. We have the rich legacy of Bonhoeffer’s writings and the accounts by his friends and admirers of a life lived with conviction.  Did that make up to his mother that she did not get to kiss him good bye?  I would not even want to guess.

I never met Bassel Shehadeh and I never will.  He is a photograph from a news story at the time of his death.  The picture put up that showed the man that his friends and family knew and loved.  I don’t know who took the picture of that handsome young man leaning casually against the wall and smiling at his photographer.  I don’t know if it was a candid or posed shot.  I only know my reaction.  Now there is a man I would love to sit and talk with over a meal, a drink, whatever.  He was not only handsome and charming to look at, he was obviously intelligent, talented, a man of conviction, capable of great love for family, country…and on and on.  Now if that is the reaction of a woman old enough to be his mother, seeing a photograph, what must the young women and men in his age pool have been thinking as he walked by, with that o so warm smile…….. that no one will ever touch again.

I was also reminded recently of the death in the line of duty of a St Alban’s Man (one of the very finest tags that mark the fully educated man, intellectually and spiritually) who died in combat serving his country.  His friends filled a large cathedral in his honor and the Patriot Guard, those Veterans who served us and continue to serve us by honouring their own, stood guard outside.  I will always remember the Bishop, after the service, stopping to thank each and every member of the Guard for their continued service to our nation.  The young man’s last time with his class. And the beautiful young widow who will never hold her man again.  And the family who will never see him gathered around the table with them once more.  Ever.

As the daughter of an army officer who spent the Korean War as a POW and the step daughter of an air force officer who liberated concentration camps after WWII, I understand the choice of war as opposed to making peace with oppression. And as Father’s Day approaches, I wish these two the very best within my heart because I can no longer say it to their faces. I no longer have the opportunity to say all the things and ask all the questions I should have said and asked years ago.

The economics of war include, certainly, the finances and the waste.  And the all too neglected healing and care for those who serve and yet come home scarred beyond fending for themselves in the civilian life they paid too dearly to defend for the rest of us. But also the loss of beautiful, young, talented men and women that we will never hold or talk to again.  What might have been.  And that is what I try to remember as I work to rid the hatred and pettiness in my own heart, the blaming of others for my own lacks,  so that I do not cry for war out of self entitlement or power driven hunger.

I will never get to gaze upon the charming Bassel Shehadeh and actually talk with him and have one of those smiles for my very own.  That price of war is too high.  Love you all.

Midnight at the Oasis

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Send your camel to bed – David Nichtern (sung by Maria Muldar)

The Windsor chair, the lion spread on the bed and the icon over the doorway are his few possessions in the bedroom.

He stood at the foot of the bed and his necktie hung over the doorknob.

I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. ‘Finally. You’re here.’

He looked down at me with that smile that went into my eyes and down to my toes. Unlike his usual smile his eyes turned sparkling blue. I think it was the fact that I would stutter and struggle to string words into sentences that amused him; he was used to women giggling and blushing at his smile. This smile rendered me helpless for days into the bargain. He admitted one Palm Sunday that he did it on purpose.

‘Have you decided what you want?’ I asked him, hoping he would sit down soon. The smile was easier to handle when we were more or less eye level and the look was not boring down into me. If this was my one chance I needed all my wits about me.

He folded down at the foot of the bed and propped his elbow on his knee and rested his chin in his hand. The smile faded and he said in his matter of fact voice,

‘You know how I feel, you have always known. And I have always admired the way you have always known what you want and how you plan to do it.’

‘I would still like to hear you say it, just once.’

‘But I have said it. The day of the Dean’s Installation I said it in a room full of people. Everybody heard me, including you.’

“But that could have meant anything. Say it here and now. And tell me what you want me to do. You have nothing to lose now. Just say it.’

He was silent. I can out wait anybody else in silence but he. I think how beautiful he makes me feel and I want to hear his voice say my name and I will do anything to get a conversation going. And I think idle thoughts such as the time he kissed me, the time he held my hand, the times he held me.

My most cherished compliment came the day I read at his request. I forget what the reading was, but as we passed one another, I to my stall and he to the lectern, he breathed one word: ‘Excellent’. Thinking of that, I wilted, as usual.

‘Well I give you one thing. I learnt from you never, ever to do anybody’s dirty work for them, especially if you don’t want it done. I know that was originally from Dorothy Sayers but you hammered it home to me. And that is why I am waiting for an answer this time. Where I went wrong was trying to be too considerate of your tender little feelings.

You said you would always be an email away. Well I have emailed the only address I have. I told you what I needed and arranged a signal for you to use if you if you wanted. And still nothing. Is that the best that you can do?’

And it started to storm again as it always does when we have this conversation. A sign that I cannot interpret.

‘You know what I need. Either take care of me or find me someone who can!’

Finally he said, ‘I just don’t want to break your creative flow’

And I said what I wished I had said long ago.

‘I’ll tell you what you really want! You say that you don’t permit some things on the theory that if the camel can get his nose into the tent, then the rest of the camel will follow. How many times have you put your nose into my tent, so to speak, but I can’t get you to come in and take your ease? I have tried coaxing. And tickling. Tantalizing, baiting, bribing and on a couple of occasions grabbing the camel’s nose and pulling. Have you any idea how slippery a camel’s nose can be??? I know you love me but you don’t want me. You had the choice of being a romantic comedy lead or a tragedy hero. Damn Tolkien!’

He arose, stretched his arms like a contented cat, and gave me one last smile (to make sure I remained incoherent for a few days I suppose).

He said, as usual, ‘I tell you too little for fear of telling you too much’

On that note he faded away and I rolled over into the pillows muttering, as usual ‘You are even more annoying than when you were alive.’

Love you all.

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I Done All Right For A Girl

CIMG4662Alleluia Christ is Risen

I Done All Right For A Girl

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don’t drive no car
Don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far
For somebody who don’t drive
I been all around the world
Some people say, I done all right for a girl

If you are too young to remember, that is from a song called Brand New Key by Melanie Safka. And it pretty much sums me up, according to my friends.

My 20th anniversary as a verger was on my last birthday. Verger – medieval church body guard and attendant, nowadays mostly nag and stage manager. What has happened in the last 20 years that I could have never imagined?

I expected to last six months as a verger. John Templeton Kraus, sometime verger of Washington National Cathedral summed up the job in this way: ‘If something goes wrong, it is your fault. If something goes right, the Holy Spirit inspired’. When I told him some months later that the job was everything he said it would be, he looked straight into my eyes and said ‘you will come to love it even more, I promise’.

O he was so right. It came the Sunday during the ‘contemporary family’ service. After the peace, the rector says to me ‘Set the Table, I am going to play the guitar with the kids offertory.’ Not ‘can you do it?’ ‘Do it.’ And I proceeded to set the Table for the Canon of the Mass as if I had always done it, not as if I was doing it for the first time. And I was in another place.

Until then, I thought ‘vocation’ meant a calling to be a nun or a monk or an ordained clergy. Now I know vocation is the act of falling in love. And love changes everything. When the job came to an end, everybody in the parish assumed I would take up another ministry or sit in the pews and make comments. A reasonable assumption. But God made me another offer. “Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? In exchange for belonging, the feeling of belonging to a congregation, I offer you this.’ ‘What?’ ‘This.’ When I step into an Altar area, wherever I am, I am at home. It is not the feeling of ownership or authority or responsibility. Not even belonging. It is the knowledge of the ground beneath my feet.

It was last in Nazareth, in an underground archaeological site, when I stood in what had been the village altar that I heard it again, the Covenant that I had more or less forgotten: ‘I offer you this’. ‘What?’ ‘This.’ I may forget from time to time but God does not.

And yes, I meant Nazareth. I spent Halloween one year walking the length of the town with a friend, searching for an ATM, since I was out of NIS. If any one had told me I would ever be in Palestine, I would have said ‘yes.right.’ So I was non-committal when Canon John said he wanted to get me to the Holy Land as a thank you for some work support I gave his office. As if. And that was two pilgrimages ago in the last five years. And now I know that all I had been taught about the Middle East was not really so. For 53 years I had misunderstood the situation entirely. Now Canon John had changed me. Actually, it was really the former President of Iran who is to blame, if you cannot take my change of heart. And I once lost a job because his Excellency could not travel. I cannot believe I can say that.

Anymore than I can believe I have attended the Presiding Bishop at a small private service and my Bishop by the Galilee and at the Maryland Renaissance Festival; I have run the sound system at a cathedral; I have directed a live webcast. I was the verger of the College of Preachers for some 14 years. Some days I was Global Justice. I own my own car and I have had real holidays. I have two sons. I have had a heart cath and a hernia repair. I live in a basement flat that I found through an ad rather than renting from a friend of a friend whose cat approved me. I have a mobile and a camera and a blog. I learned to belly dance. I have heard Sir Paul and The Boss and Tina Turner in concert. And the hardest thing I ever had to do, the journey to acknowledge the part I played in letting my marriage die. I sleep alone. I have friends I regularly hob nob with, some have become my sisters. I am reconnecting with many relatives and friends. I am on Facebook. I wear my grandfather’s Princeton Chess medal around my neck. I struggle with the Arabic. The medication helps with my fear of heights and triforiums and step ladders and I am not beloved for my navigational skills.

The joy of the 40’s and 50’s is that I have lost my fear of failure. I don’t love failure anymore than I ever did, I just let it go faster. And I am digging deeper into my soul to seek that which I should keep and that which I should toss. I can’t believe half the stuff that is in me and how did it get there? Like the two disabilities hiding under the other two. Isn’t that just too precious? How much of this do I really need I wonder……

And the verging life nowadays? I have verged at some dozen plus places in the last two decades. But now I don’t verge in the ordinary way unless the Cathedral invites me to be in a procession for the funeral of a loved mentor. The Verger graciously houses my vestments so that I am to hand if needed. But God defines ‘to verge’, not I. It now takes the form of writing a biography of Lucy Mackrille, the first Head of the Washington Cathedral Altar Guild. If I do this well, we all win. I execute task and perhaps I can make amends to the Cathedral Church for the blame I lavished on it for something it bears no blame. I write wrapped in my late beloved mentor’s favourite sweater. At least he wore it to shreds very nearly. I am learning to darn in silk. He was the Cathedral’s champion for decades, so perhaps he will persuade Miss Mackrille to give me the correct insight to her story.

And this Blog page. When I sent a message to the rector who played the guitar while I set the Table 20 years ago, his response was, ‘Can you come up here and do a workshop for my congregation?’ ‘What do you want me to teach?’ ‘Everything’. So I am digging out all my notes, rehearsing, designing the agenda, looking at the parish web page to get an idea of where my feet will stand that weekend……

The picture at the start of the post? Life is not all vestments and stage black. Sometimes it is funky socks and crocs. Love you all

The Mysteries of Udolpho

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Can I tell ye a story without telling ye any of the names?

In the first years of my new single life I cat/dog/car/house/whatever sat.  In 2005/2006 the cat employing me at the time enjoyed this programme where restaurant owners would have their establishments done over and their menus tweaked the better to please their clientele.  In the few shows I would see later on, however total the makeover there was some connection between the owner and the new styling, some rationale for why this was an improvement and they were going to really love it.  Not in this show.

Ordinarily, I don’t watch horror shows or reality programmes. I don’t find being terrorized fun.  I have never seen parts of the yellow brick road classic because I would turn off the tv whenever that witch and her monkeys appeared. I didn’t want to see it when I was seven and I don’t want to see it now.

But I know my place in the scheme of things (ask any cat, I have impeccable references) and this is what the cat enjoyed watching.  She relaxed in the recliner and I staged myself behind the ironing board, prepared to be bored.

[the gratuitous violence in this show was an infestations of roaches in the walls and a spaghetti of wires in the kitchen leaving one to wonder why the patrons hadn’t been poisoned and the cook electrocuted long ago.  I was in the laundry room for most of the clean out the roach nest scene]

But the real horror of this show was seeing, right off, that the restaurant people and the makeover people were totally incompatible.  It began quietly enough with the explanation that the owner, having gotten a loan for her share of the makeover and now was told to go away for a few days while the makeover team went to work. Then one realised that the makeover team was here to ‘save’ the restaurant people and the restaurant people had no desire to be saved.

There was the decor, for example, a Victorian clutter style created from discarded finds brought in by the patrons. The ‘saviours’ were horrified. The saviour chef was trying to teach the unsaved chef how to really cook and could not understand for the life of him why his client/quarry was not hanging on his every word. Why am I here if you don’t want to learn anything?????

So I watched in slowly growing fascination as this Gothic horror proceeded, the restaurant being styled into something totally antithetical to what the owner must enjoy and the creation of a menu style that the patrons would not recognise. When I returned from the laundry room after the roach and wire scene, I curled up with the cat to catch every moment, knowing what would happen when the owner returned.

What added to the horror was that I knew what the owner and her family were going to say when they saw the new, brightly coloured and totally uncluttered shop, reminding me of a stage set for a soda shop scene. Their eyes bulged, the mouths set in grim lines and they crept warily into the new universe. ‘I don’t like this’ they all muttered as I mouthed it along with them. If they liked the old style they were certainly not going to like this.

So while I don’t like horror and Gothic and unhappy endings, I have to admit to being gripped by being immediately aware that disaster was coming in a titanic clash of personality and vision of mission. It was like the one time I served on jury duty and realised directly the judge outlined the case that if this is what the State said the story was, I would never understand how it got into court. By the time the State was done presenting her opening my conviction hardened into concrete. Sometime you can just see it coming.

As I understand by the tag line of the show, the owners sold the new chairs so they could paint the walls black.

But you can google this for yourself. I should have given you enough clues that you can find this for yourself if you wish. Anyway, that was my task; to tell you the tale without any names but with enough information to research further if it pleased you.

Now off to the beginning of the Tridiuum and the beginning of another telling of a tale that seemed to be doomed and turned out victorious after all. At least from my point of view. Love you all.

The Wedding Song

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NB – Today in the sound booth I am wearing my red pullover instead of stage black and no one cares

As much as I like the Biblical sounding wording of ‘a man shall leave his mother and woman leave her home’, Marriage Equality, as it is called, should be the law of the land.

For one reason, whenever we try for some kind of same sex union law that would guarantee our LGBT brothers and sisters their domestic rights so that they can take proper care of those they love and commit to, just as any male and female couple would have if they eloped on a whim, we shoot ourselves down. For those jurisdictions that stick with it, they pass a marriage equality law. So as much as I hate change, if the only way we will take care of one another is by changing the definition of marriage from a man and a woman to two adults who will stand by each other, hand me the quill and I will make the first strike out on the old text. Of course most of the gay couples I meet, I meet in church. And they are in devoted committed relationships not because they are bound to by law but because they live what they believe. So why does Law not acknowledge the Reality?

For another reason, those couples who do not give birth to children sometimes adopt them. And people who are stable and sure of who they are and have a lot to give of themselves and lots of courage can give a stable and loving home to children who otherwise get nothing. Fives years old is aged in the orphan game. Anybody who will back any child with their love and integrity is all right by me. I love a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer about the ‘God who sets the solitary into families’. I have no intention of trying to tell God how that shall be done.

Finally, this is really all about me. In 20/30 years, Inshallah, I will be a crazy old lady and a stubborn old lady. I may not have all my marbles or I may be annoyingly all there. In either case I will be a nuisance and totally dependent on those who are younger and stronger and in control of things. I would just as soon these super creatures were raised with love and integrity and respect and believe in Bp Gene Robinson’s elegant phrase ‘God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings’ (I hope I got that right, Bishop). I don’t care who has done the job as long as they have done their best. Time’s up. Love you ALL.

Its a Small World After All…..A Small Small World

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Between services a friend and I sauntered up to one of the local places for brunch. We are part of a quartet that regularly brunches there. The other two were not working that day. I made the decision to seek my colleague out for lunch to have a discussion with him about a previous discussion. We had that discussion and then wandered by some curious byway in the realm of Immigration Reform.

Now slightly singing from the previous topic, he was adamant that any type of immigration legislation was bad. How? I asked. It is just all bad. All we get are the poor and needy. What we need to do is make living in the country more attractive to the educated and wealthy.
But if you are educated and wealthy, why would you want to leave all you have going for you?

Anyway, he said, that is why I am against immigration reform. Its gets our country nothing.

Well, I said slowly, think of all we get when people of different languages and cultures come here to live. You learn about places in the world you may never learn about first hand.

They can still learn to speak English and do things our way, he said.

Do remember that I am an immigrant. So far as I know I don’t have a drop of First Nation blood in me and I cannot speak a word of Lenapi. I do know the translation of my younger son’s Lenape name is ‘Pudding Eating Guide’.

My friend was adamant. We were better off before this flood of new immigrants that we have to support and give them their rights. And I have no interest in learning about other people and their cultures.

I sigh. It seems that you and I are passing each other coming and going. Once I got used to the change I am having a blast meeting people from all over the world and learning about different cultures and picking up bits and phrases. I miss some of the automatic agreed upon rules but I am having fun.

Well I am not. They should either become real Americans or go home.

So there is my blog post done in 15 minutes and about to post. No time to edit. Does nothing strike you as odd? If not, the hint is that my colleague’s American ancestry is older that half of mine and younger than the other half: his ancesters arrived (read ‘were imported’) to this land in the 1800 hundreds. We are both still Colonial Children.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

To three men in the order they appeared in my life:

Fourth Grade – Kurt, You were thoughtful, attentive and nice.  I wish I had been nicer to you.  I still have the visual of having lost my lunch money and you promptly offering me your lunch money. I want you to know that I simply did not know how to accept your charm and attention. I am over that now. For which some of the men in my here and now should be grateful to you.  I hope you are living happily ever after with someone who appreciates her treasure.

Fifth Grade – Jimmy, I still have your few letters, believe it or not; obviously I no longer live next door to your cousins. I smile as I think of your stimulating intellect; the lesson you taught me about playing chess with someone better than you so that your skills would improve.  I still have no offense game and I am really a parchesi kind of woman.  But I still read aloud and I am glad you enjoyed my reading to you.  Fondly,

Sixth Grade – Eric,  You dumped into my DNA a sensual regard for lanky and cranky men.  It pops up now and again. I see your shy smile and your warm brown eyes and feel the touch of your hand as we waited our turns to bowl. You were also my first experience with Build -Up -A -Man’s- Confidence- Until- He- Realises- He- Can- Do -Better -Than- You.  This is not a compliment. So I am putting you in a book as one of the characters.  Which is where you belong.

[As I completed this draft some months ago, the man I had spent some years trying to reconnect with suddenly got in touch with me.  But Rob is another story.]

Love you all

Love Changes Everything

If I were a stand up comic my tag line would be: My Friends Are The Very Best.  And then I would go on to tell a story about a friend, family member, colleague, favourite literary character, etc… that would prove my point.  So this is where I will rehearse my shows and develop my skills and find my voice.  And because my friends are indeed the very best, I can’t fail.

The ‘find my voice’ part is the tricky bit.  Not that the ability is not there but I find myself more scared than I realised and better at hiding stuff from myself than even I give myself credit. I find myself face to face with the quote from Jaroslav Seifert:  If an ordinary man is silent it may be a tactical maneuver.  If a writer is silent he is lying.

So am I a writer?  Am I lying? We shall see.

This is the first task to master.  Using a blog. I am in hopes that I have set this up correctly and it can be found at tracingjourneys.wordpress.com.  If not, back to the drawing board.

The title of this post is the title of a song I heard sung by Michael Ball that is now the working title of my biography of Lucy Mackrille, first head of the Altar Guild of Washington National Cathedral  To say that love changed everything in her life is a masterpiece of understatement.  When I told my first born about this project he said, “I hope she had 6 husbands or something else that the Church would find equally scandalous.”  No.  But there are other things.

Love you all.