Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thank You

It’s been over 30 years since a friend in Austin Texas gave me some of the best advice a still-young sojourner can get. We had been talking about parent-child relationships—really the complications of my own relationship with my mother and my friend's tapestry of experiences as a divorced mother of three bright, independent-spirited children. As I told the same story again—one that I had revisited over and over and woefully continued to revisit for another three decades—my friend said, “Harold, parents do the best they can. They don’t look at a child in the crib and say, ‘I’m going to f--k you up.’” I don’t ever want to forget that wisdom, even though I am not a parent. My mother is dead three years now, and I still mourn at times that we never made a complete peace, even though she was a wonderful and loyal friend until the very end of her life here. It is what it is.

Relationships of any kind are complicated—friends, siblings, professional, romantic—and we all too easily forget that on any given day we are most likely doing the best we can. On the continuum of our behaviors—if such a model is appropriate for talking about the good and the ugly that we are capable of as human beings—we are making our way in the way that seems to work for us at the time. What any of us does on any given day—how we relate to one another, the peace or joy that we bring to ourselves or that we offer as gifts to others, regardless how small the offering might seem, the “hell on earth” that manifests in similar measure—the sounding of our lives is all part of the journey, the journey home to our center, to the Divine of which we are all expressions, as I was reminded in reading from “Science of Mind” magazine this morning.

Are we dealt a hand? Are we mostly choice makers? Are we victims? We work with life the best we can. Earlier today I saw a group arrive at the nature preserve where I volunteer one morning each week. I didn’t pay much attention, although I noticed that they sat at a picnic table near the visitor center and shared a meal. “Early in the day for lunch,” I thought, but went about my task of filling the feeders with seed and hummingbird nectar. Only later did I realize that the group was made up of three mentally challenged adults and their caregivers, when one of the caregivers brought her charge into the visitor center. With great tenderness, she shepherded the young man around the small visitor center, commenting when I asked if they had enjoyed the trail that it was nice, “but that Jeff was frightened coming back down” the steps that lead up to the trail. “Yes, those steps are challenging,” I remind myself aloud. I walked with them as they left the visitor center, where another of the caregivers waited outside the door, a young man, smiling as he gathered the flock.

Do the next right thing. That is a choice we sentient beings have all day long every day. Here in this sanctuary where some come to work, others to volunteer, and many to walk the trails and delight in the birds, evidence of other wildlife and the typography above 7000’, I am reminded as visitor after visitor comes into the center—most eager to talk about the experience of just being here—I am blessed, once again—in remembering the health I enjoy and the independence that I assume each day is my very right. One visitor this morning from Florida walked the lower trail while his wife, who wasn’t up to the challenge, waited in the car. He came into the center to thank me—“No, thank you,” I’m thinking—telling me that he had seen a Spotted Towhee on the trail, as if this had made his day. I noticed earlier in the morning a small group pushing two of their companions in wheelchairs up to the small landing that leads to the trailhead. One of them came into the center to say, “Thank you,” telling me that they were from one of the pueblos nearby. “No, thank you,” I’m thinking. And so it is.

Thank You--Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 18, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

I made my first hike of the year yesterday afternoon. I went alone, which is usually how I entertain myself, regardless of where I am. Although it makes me a little sad—to be reminded that I didn’t have a companion to join me on this outing—I realized a long time ago that there are harsher truths in life than spending much of my time in sole pursuit.

As I made my way up and down the trail, which to my surprise was still blanketed with heavy drifts of now-dirty snow in areas where the sun hasn’t yet done its work, I passed several families—perhaps on a mother’s day outing. The last, a young couple dragging a stroller up the trail, prompted me to say to the young woman, “I guess ‘Happy mother’s day’ is in order”. “Thank you,” she replied, smiling. It seemed a little strange to be saying that to someone young enough to be my granddaughter, especially on a day where I was thinking about my own mother.

Earlier in the afternoon I had received an email from a friend. “I wish you a good mother’s day, yes, I know you´re not a mother but think about it there might be a little of a mother in you. Let´s hope so….” In church on this Sunday morning, the minister wished all of us a happy mother’s day, then proceeded to talk about masculine/feminine archetypes and male/female qualities that characterize each of us. “Interesting,” I answered my friend’s email—that you should acknowledge my nurturing ways, especially since that was at the heart of the talk given by our minister just two hours earlier. With a smile, later in the day I wished the tattooed 20-something male sacker at the super market a happy mother’s day, but I think the whole notion of male/female qualities within each of us was lost on him. He smiled back, nonetheless.

I guess the point of all of this comes down to celebrating who we are. Eventually, we are all orphans. In the three years since our mother died, I have made peace with the truth that I can’t walk up the road to her house and fix her a bowl of Cream of Wheat or pick up the phone and say hello, without giving it a second thought, to anyone from our parents’ generation—not anymore. Only one aunt—our Aunt Edna by marriage—remains from that generation. And at 83, she is living with a terminal diagnosis. Living friendly with the news, it seems, she is taking each day for what it brings. I saw her a few weeks ago. Although I was a little frightened (What do you say to someone who is facing the inevitable news of our finality?), I realized quickly that day—as she sat in the passenger seat of her granddaughter’s pickup truck, ready for the return trip to her home some 200 miles away—that loving feelings trump whatever fears cause us to feel uncertain. We visited for only 15 minutes. I almost made it through without crying. But when I told her that I named her and all of her family in the list of blessings I speak each night, I couldn’t contain the emotion I felt at remembering, remembering. And one important truth sitting arms outstretched on the front of my brain is that we are all in this together.

I chose to live in this place where I have no blood connections—not that any such connections guarantee anything at all. There are no Sunday family dinners here, at least not for me, and not of the kind that I recall from all of the years of living around family. But somehow that seemed all right when I stood where Big Tesuque stream crosses the road that leads to almost 12,000 feet. With the water rushing behind me and in front of me, I fixed my eyes on that tumbling water making it way around a fallen aspen and down, down, how far I don’t really know. I stood there, legs akimbo of sorts, my hands resting on my hiking pole, and I breathed and counted, trying to stay focused on the sounds of the wind and the water and the cool afternoon air, wrapping itself around my legs, in short pants for the first time this season. I made it to 10 times 20, breathing in and exhaling my emptiness, and I found a lovely peace. Alone I was, in one sense, but somehow it didn’t seem so lonely, as I made my way back down, greeting families and even one sole sojourner such as I. I am reminded in all that I choose to read that we are never alone. Sometimes we long for quiet times, sometimes we long for the company of others. Sometimes we long for something we know not. And so it is.

Mother’s Day—Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 10, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, May 3, 2010

On a Sunday Afternoon

We all have those experiences where on recalling the joy we felt, we for some reason have to visit the notion of not having had the experience. Surely it’s not just me who has to tantalize himself by imagining some disappointment. Such was Sunday afternoon.

My first taste of music from the hearts of a mostly octogenarian group was the British documentary, “Young at Heart”, which tells the story of a group of elders in Massachusetts. The film focuses on the process of these men and women coming together and then preparing for performance—the frustrations of the director who formed the group, the tenacity of the performers, many of whom struggle with health problems, and the health roller coaster that ultimately leads to the performance being dedicated to two of the men who died before the group finally took the stage. It is the story of triumph, loss, and celebration.

Had I not picked up the Friday arts magazine from the local newspaper and read about “Lifesongs,” had I not convinced myself to head downtown to the performing arts center in spite of a cold, overcast early May afternoon with temperatures hovering around 40, had I been put off by the innocent challenge of free tickets with no reservations—how many people will show up, how early do I have to get there, and will I have to stand in the cold waiting for the theater to open—had I not understood somewhere deep inside that a potentially heartfelt experience awaited me, I wouldn’t know what I had missed. But I showed up and I found myself wiping away tears throughout two hours, until I finally just gave up on the finale.

I know, of course, that the memory of loved one’s lost tugged at me throughout the event, though one of the story tellers was only in his 50s—a handsome Hispanic man battling Parkinson’s disease—and an elegant woman poet I assumed to be in her 70s or 80s, even though her hair was colored jet black, turned out to be my age, a mere 66 years. Many stories from many men and women were set to music, a collaboration of the story tellers and the talented artists who translated these stories to instrument and voice and body motion. Photographs taken by some of the storytellers were projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage while their words were spoken against a lyrical backdrop of music.

Four of the storytellers were on stage—a part of the performance, each in a wheelchair—while others were in the audience, including one man who had asked that he not be pointed out. I don’t remember ever before witnessing such a rich coming together of community—nursing home residents, hospice patients, nurses and other caregivers, artists young and not as young, and so much honesty. Musical and performance perfection was not the purpose, and yet, the afternoon couldn’t have been more perfect—for me.

“Step by step that’s the way that we started
Step by step under the Stars
Not too fast, kinda slowly
That’s the way that I like to dance
That’s the way that I like to dance”

Dancing by the Moonlight—by Bits and Pieces

So on a gray, cold Sunday afternoon, as I walked briskly back to my car parked several blocks away from the theater, I smiled and remembered and I gave thanks for the groups and individuals who gave themselves to a process that had culminated in an afternoon—something that couldn’t be repeated, even though a similar performance had been given the night before in a neighboring city 60 miles to the south. I smiled and remembered and gave thanks for the love—love that was obvious in the faces and love spoken. It is in giving that we receive. And so it is.

On a Sunday Afternoon—Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 3, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis