Friday, December 25, 2009

Light is What We Need

As I lay under the covers in bed last night, book in hand, flashlight resting on my pillow and shoulder, I was caught between frustration that the electricity had been out for most of the last four hours and gratitude that I had shelter and a bed and a down comforter. It was Christmas Eve—not that I was a part of any big celebration, alone in my barn house in rural Leon County, Texas—and it was 30 degrees outside. Storms passing through emptied rain well into the evening as the wind howled, playing havoc with the wind turbine on the roof. No lights, no heat. Sure, I had candlesticks and a kerosene lamp, but instead I set a small candle by the head of my bed, and though I had a couple of flashlights, I fretted that I had no extra batteries. Alas, I am a creature of comfort.

As I grew cozy under the comforter, I stretched my body, scrunching up my back and butt and wiggling my toes, and I smiled because I was able to shine a light on the words of the novel I had started. It was only 7 in the evening, and I wasn’t sleepy. I was reminded of the first time I visited my friends Joy and Judy on the Carson mesa in northern New Mexico in 1988. Their summer retreat is an authentic adobe that they built with the help of family and friends—a work in progress—planted with a panoramic view, windows facing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Because they had no electricity, we took flashlights to bed so that we could read ourselves to sleep. Readers, we are. Shelves and stacks of books are part of the landscape wherever we dwell, permanent and not. I called them at Joy’s home in Tulsa, where Judy and her nephew Stephen are visiting for Christmas. They were watching a “Minnesota blizzard,” as Judy called it, making its way across Oklahoma. “I’m reminded of Carson,” I announced as Judy answered her wireless, greeting my call with friendly recognition, and then I explained about the loss of power here, my flashlight memories of Carson, going on to talk about the holiday and the collection of books Judy had lent me when I spent the night at her place in Ft. Worth on the way to my Texas home from New Mexico almost two weeks ago. “Has it been that long already?” she asked.

In the back of my mind, while Judy chatted amiably, I worried because my cell phone battery had already shown that it was working its way down toward a charge, another reminder that I had no electricity. I couldn’t charge the battery, and without the phone, my ability to communicate was clearly compromised. No flashlight, no book, no cell phone—only me and the dark and the wind and the night. Christmas Eve. But I had shelter, a now-warm bed, a lighted candle, a commode near by and a glass of water. Christmas Eve. I was safe and well fed. That I was immeasurably blessed was not lost on me. Conscious of my limitations, however, I called my oldest sister, Joan, who had returned to her home on these same 200 acres from Christmas Eve celebration at the local Methodist church. She too was “without lights”. Only one other chicken remains in our immediate family, our sister, Sue, who with her husband lives west of Houston, most of her offspring nearby. We were all safe and tucked in our respective homes.

By any entertainment standard, my expectations were low for this night. They had started low because I really preferred to be in the comfort of my own home, quietly engaged in a book, to shut out my lamp by 9 or so, and to lie with my hands folded on my diaphragm, counting to 10, 20 times counting to 10, and repeating to myself whatever mantra wanted to settle in my brain as I breathed in deeply and exhaled completely—Thank you, I am blessed, God is love, Love heals, God.

Tonight the sky is clear, filled with stars. An owl hoots in the nearby grove of Post Oak trees, and the night birds call plaintively. Truly, that is the sound. All is well on this Christmas night. Our small family, each of us, is safe at home. I imagine that Joan has a fire going while she watches TV. Sue, recovering from a winter cold, is with her family, a fire burning in the large woodstove in the house where we grew up. A fire dances in my own little wood stove tucked away in an add-on room, where I keep my books and lots of other treasures, and where I use my laptop while here in Texas. There is plenty of light. Light—light is what we need.

Light is What We Need—Normangee, Texas (December 25, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"What a concept! Tell the truth, and let go of the results." (Anne Lamott, "Blue Shoe")

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And the Angel of the Lord

I keep coming back to the angel sculpture whose wings are joyously spread at the entrance to the labyrinth on the plaza in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have walked this labyrinth many times. The inscription on the sculpture that draws my eyes reads, "I am not asking to be loved. I want to love." It is, after all, in loving that we are loved. I wish that I had said that, but as many of us know, these words are attributed to St. Francis.

"An organization called Charter for Compassion is taking this approach (i.e., [to]refrain from weaponizing...[our] words and...{to] seek peaceful solutions whenever possible. Gathering together supporters such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, singer Paul Simon and Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, it has sought to restore compassion as the center for morality and religion. It calls for a 'return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.'" (from an article for CNN by Paul Moses titled "Is religion about war--or peace?". Moses is professor of journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.)

Friday, December 18, 2009


I have always been easily overwhelmed. A personality flaw, no doubt, led me to carve SOS with the push mower into our front yard when I was 12. The grass had grown high, and the task before me was more than I believed I could face. Clearly, it was one of those times where you think that you can’t make it through the job. So at that time, 54 years ago now, I clearly felt it more meaningful to carefully maneuver the power mower, pushing down the handle to raise the housing that contained the blade so as not to mar my handiwork, and brand SOS into the grass. I told Mother and Daddy and the woman working in their market with them that day that I had hoped a pilot flying over would see my distress signal and come to my aid.

I came home to Texas this Christmas holiday for the first time in three years, the first Christmas since our mother’s death. I had sufficient cause for wanting to escape the high desert, even though Santa Fe is remarkably beautiful this time of year. “I’ll get to see my sisters for Christmas, and I can get a jump on my winter gardening,” I told friends who asked. And I fully planned to engage the help of a local Mexican worker who—yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—weeds flower beds. He weeds them meticulously. My oldest sister had made arrangements for Carlos to work for both of us the entire week.

Arriving here Tuesday afternoon, with the first signs of my first cold of the season, I felt compromised physically. That afternoon was about getting my internet and cable television service reconnected and sweeping up the bugs that I knew would litter every room downstairs after a two-month absence. As it turned out, Carlos was finishing up a job for someone in town but would be here Wednesday. Early that morning I gathered the electric pruners and outdoor extension cords and began. Three Viburnum bushes quickly gave up their excess from a flourish that began once this part of the world started getting rain at the end of the summer. As it turned out, no Carlos. I continued half-heartedly, hoping that he would show up. We learned late in the day that he had to take one of his two babies to the doctor.

Thursday brought a cold front and rain, and so I nursed my cold, read, and made a pot of chili. Early today, I knew that the promised sun would shine, and it would be perfect gardening weather. Yet something told me that Carlos would not make it. As the morning wore on, there was really nothing else to do but hunker down and continue working. Wheelbarrow in tow and rake in hand, I began picking up the debris—wet from yesterday’s rain. I thought of making my SOS, but I knew I had to just push ahead. There were no Mother and Daddy to hear my story. Those days are done.

My sister Joan, who lives in the house on this land that our parents bought in 1973 as a retirement place, told me yesterday that she wasn’t going to worry about the thick carpet of Post Oak leaves around her house, leaves that our mother could not have tolerated. The yard had to be raked for the holiday. And the yard, through four houses since we were children, was always big. Now we don’t have to rake the yard to please Mother. It’s true. My garden, the entrance marked by a stone I had made after Mother died—RUSSELL AND TENA HOLLIS GARDEN—well, it doesn’t have to be maintained for anyone, really. I live away most of the year. It has become part of my trips home to this land in Texas, however, that while here I make the garden pretty—not neurotic pretty—it was never that—just pleasant.

And so today, in the absence of Carlos, who I am told will be here at 7:30 in the morning, I made pretty in the garden. I abandoned the childish urge to carve an SOS, acquiescing to the truth that this place is mine and I’ll make the best of it in the manner that I make best. And though I grumbled about how I don’t want this responsibility anymore, like the two-story barn house-turned-warehouse that gets a lick and a promise each time I’m here, maybe if I keep practicing, I can learn to really like it this way—no rescue needed.

SOS—Normangee, Texas (December 18, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort -- the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person -- having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” (from “A Life for a Life,” Dinah Maria Mulock Craik [1826-1887])

First, do no harm. (attributed to the medical Hippocratic oath)

"...if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them." (attributed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in "The Art of Happiness," His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D., Riverhead Books, 1998)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"...only that which leads me to the God within myself can reveal God."

(from Ernest Holmes, "Sermon by the Sea," at Asilomar, 1959)

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Courage is a virtue of the wise and the brave but more ultimately of the holy, the transformed, the enlightened." ("[The Mystic Hours]", Wayne Teasdale, New World Library, p. 60)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another..."
(from "For the Sake of Strangers" by Dorianne Laux)