At last I've trundled a ways down the river path again, in shiny sun.

After a pause at the water's edge I wandered on into a familiar tree-lined corridor, even though I felt the burn of unused muscles. I was ready to turn back for home, but I couldn't help thinking how one never knows, in the brief warming autumn hour, exactly whether there will be another chance to push a little and go there.

My summer's experiences inspired this thinking.

The sun shone hot in late June the day Mom drove me to emergency. (This was to be the first of three ER visits, along with two ambulance rides and two hospital admissions, plus surgery, ICU, and lots of hours spent in the cardiac wing of Riverbend hospital.) Intense pain and difficulty breathing naturally made me wonder if today I might die. I recognized clearly that I wasn't ready.

Of course I was unready to leave family and friends. But in that moment I became very aware of my unreadiness regarding the end of this life, my spirit's separation from my body and experiencing what's next.

I didn't think about this in a despairing way. I prayed, as I've practiced many times, "Lord have mercy." Not considering God's mercy in the deep, judgemental-sounding voice of British actors in films where gallows victims prepare to hang: "May God have mercy on your soul." My belief is that mercy triumphs over judgement and is a free a gift, as free as sparkling ripples in the Willamette.

I wasn't terrified, but I was sorry. I knew I hadn't been paying attention half as often as would be beneficial. I was like a hiker who's signed up to trek the Pacific Crest Trail, looking forward to the gift of closer sky and the crunch of boots on dirt, the scents of cedar and campfire and the amazing vistas, none of which I created or imagined, all of which lie ahead to be experienced. But I was also like the person who prepares for this backpacking adventure in spurts, distracted often by everything else, unacquainted with maps and tools, hoping it'll all come together okay, anyway.

When a person has decided something is important, to the point of talking about it in anticipation and making some room in life for its approach, and then the person sees herself still pretty lackadaisical about the thing, there are options. One is to turn away from it altogether. Another is to seek help from others to make up for her lack. A third is to lunge into this impending appointment with everything she has, stumbling through mistakes and hardships to achieve her goal. There are more, I'm sure.

While in the hospital I faced into several options as I saw them regarding my heart's beliefs about life and death.

It was good for me. I feel, on the one hand now, like sharing on this blog every humanistic and theological nuance that arrived within my muddled waters. But trying to do so gets rather preachy and bogged down fairly soon. I'll say, for the moment, that I made a definite decision. While life is always changing, I'm not always aware of it. This summer, I knew my life changed again. I was brought to the point of seeing this, and I'm grateful.

Perhaps this is what each person is doing along the path toward the ending we all face. Taking steps toward seeing what's going on inside, being a bit chased sometimes by what happens, in order to be able to pause and make definite choices. Free beings that we are, let's push ourselves a little in the warming hours and go there, and decide. We don't know exactly whether another chance will be.


gladdened mourning

Beautiful equinox, tangle of light behind blushing leaves, and yet I grieve summer's end.

Last Monday, an early call. Mom's quick assurance, and the news. "Dad and I are okay. But Uncle Larry is gone."

That fast. His dear wife left alone in the seconds between stumble and floor, breath and stillness.

At the wedding reception he and I had hugged. Same old Larry, trademark half grin and quiet smile until that burst of laughter. Photos capture others; he takes it easy in the background.

Mom and Dad's new-to-them van breezed the miles to their home on the Columbia. I had strength to drive, which wouldn't have been the case a few weeks back. All things worked together -- Tim came up Friday with James and Kimi for the service. My brothers and their spouses, other family. Hugs and music and cookies and food spread and campfire at dusk.

Home again this week, I sigh in the weather's chill, catching up some. Light, though shining fewer hours, slants easy in the garden, the background.

There is mourning and there is mourning, I suppose. It's all related. I miss summer. I miss Uncle Larry. The night he died, he had just finished supervising a chimney's completion -- his house fully finished after a quarter century. Our extended-family home now lacks something, someone substantial.

The Christian faith I've come to embrace gives me a narrative, a reason for mourning. Blessed are the mourners, pausing in life's background, watching rays slant and smoke rise, yearning for a turn from photo negative to the full spectrum: flavor, music, texture; the delight of joining together again.


bright tympani

Rain didn't fall in Eugene for several months, until right after James and Kimi's outdoor wedding reception. My nail-biting beforehand wasn't necessary -- there were three or four hours between the party's end and the first lightning flash.


Their wedding Friday morning charmed everyone. Both of the day's events were truly DIY, with nobody hired to cater or direct. The photographer, whose work will be available in a couple weeks, is a talented young friend building her portfolio.

 My shoulders feel lighter. I lived so long thinking, "What's next to do before the wedding..." that even on Saturday, roaming the mall with Tim and Victoria after a movie, my mind kept going there. "What next...oh, yeah, it's done!"

Some people really love planning events and making them happen. I think one reason I wasn't sure I'd ever have children  was my reluctance to carry out social obligations. Tim and I are nerdy, and so are our dear kids (each of whom I'm quite glad came along), and so are our friends. If not nerdy, they're different in ways that don't fit well with party planning.

And, especially now, we're not people with money. Yet we aren't so far removed from social conventions that we don't worry about having enough food (when the reception is only vaguely planned as a potluck) and about table arrangements and drinks (although we didn't worry enough there: the lemonade ran out).

But with a bride who's nearing completion of her baking degree, we knew the cake at least would turn out right. It was even gluten-free, tasting as good as it looked.

I guess weddings most always just somehow come together. There is joy and tension, lilting steps amid work. There are kind surprises, in the gift of family and friends helping. We were greatly blessed in this area. People who know how to think under pressure arrived and started setting up early. Some even stayed long after the bride and groom's bubble-blown exit, and so we were able to take most everything down before it poured.

I'm left this week afterward pondering marriage. Someone spoke to me Friday about their ambivalence toward the whole deal, the fuss, the to-do. I think this person was saying they didn't think James and Kimi needed to formalize their obviously caring relationship.

I responded, "But it's a blessing."

The support of others comes from true caring, expansive in beauty as the sky. When something as enduring on the planet as marriage sprouts to make a new beginning, the heavens can't help but gather their giving forces, displaying the rain of love, the bright tympani of affection. Though afterward this flow might seem to dry up for long stretches, mundane and difficult, its sudden abundance won't soon be forgotten.

The first flash at 2:00 a.m. Saturday delighted me. Thunder shook the neighborhood like laughter; then there overflowed the symphony of rain.


three and two

It's three weeks today since I came home from the hospital and a bit more than two weeks until James and Kimi's wedding. Whee, what a summer.

Our back yard is in its glory, thanks to James.

His satellite dish grape arbor is really producing. Sweet, seedless grapes, yum.

I've been walking and sleeping and eating and sleeping. Protein has to happen, or I get dizzy. I haven't sat much at the computer, due to pain, but that's starting to improve greatly. So I'm getting caught up on some church treasurer things, while watching a lot of medical bills add up on my hospital and insurance websites. At least we have some insurance, good for discounting charges. We've almost hit the high deductible, and then we'll see...

The best part of everything is this wedding coming up. Well, I'll tell you, the Best part of everything is the inner life of sorrow and joy, but I think that's what makes the upcoming wedding so wonderful. People sorrow and work (Kimi in bakery school; James in the ever-uncertain world of plants and farms), and there is great joy in the adventure of joining together in love.

Our dear ones recognized a while ago that they neither one feel comfortable vowing in front of everybody. So their ceremony will be close-family and attendants private (yet including a photographer) in the morning. Then that evening: the party. Wearing their duds and welcoming family and friends. I'm glad they can know themselves and work with what they've got, life having handed each of them a few terrifying moments already. They're so young, and yet, wait a minute. They're both grown up. Amazing.


spoonfuls of water

I'm recovering from surgery and 12 days in the hospital. I wish to write a long, or at least a well-done, post about my adventure (which started soon after I returned from New York). At present, though, I don't have the strength to sit at my computer long enough to do it. I've jotted parts down on paper, but putting stuff together to publish is proving too difficult yet.

Still I wanted to mention, for those not on Facebook, that I haven't abandoned your blogs apurpose. I'm just healing. And healing is a wonderful thing.

Early morning view from my hospital room.

My malady drew a lot of interest from many doctors, but no one discovered definitively what it was. Some weird virus picked up in an airport on my delayed flight home, probably, or else it was an auto-immune reaction to a garden variety virus. Whatever the case, it made me, in one doctor's words, "a head scratcher." They tested for everything they could, and it was nice, I suppose, to rule out cancer and anthrax.

I really never have felt so on the brink of this life's end as I did a couple of times the past month. This likely has to do with the procedures done near and around my heart (there was a big fluid build-up throughout my body, and the heart is not happy, especially, to be squeezed by liquid). Despite it not being fun to stare death in the face, I hold a good deal of gratitude for going through it. As someone who spends many hours pondering "ultimate" things--the soul, the reasons we're here, what will happen after death, and so on--I was suddenly dealing with things on a less conceptual, much more experiential, level. My further ponderings and conclusions will no doubt weave their way into future posts: you know me.

Pretties from my cousins.

James grew these flowers, and Kimi made the arrangement; so cheering.
 Throughout the journey, I continued spiking a fever most days. The fluid inside me made food, especially the usual things, sound totally gross. Worse than morning sickness. Then, when at last the surgery was over and the fever was disappearing, my digestive system turned on me, and I couldn't eat or keep anything inside after doing so (lovely picture; sorry). What finally made me know I was healing was being able to suck ice cubes and beginning to love the feel and taste of water again. So I kept the nurses busy refilling my styrofoam cup (may I never drink from one again) with ice, and when it melted, I dipped my plastic spoon in for dollops of water. And they refreshed me. Just as the bouquets people brought, of flowers, of themselves in kindly groups cheering me forward, of cards.

Another bouquet from friends.

From the people at Tim's TV station.
 My mom has had way more than her share this year of hospital trips and care-giving, yet every day she smilingly gave her time to me. (Dad came to visit, too, when he could.) Timothy did mountains of work and visited me twice a day. He is the guy to have on hand in a crisis; I was reminded of this blessing again and again.

Now having spent too much time upright, I'll go grab another nap. I'm drinking Kombucha, and eating all the healing foods possible. People have brought us much food. They're wonderful. I look forward to blogging and visiting and walking along the river again soon.


floor angels

Touring St. Vladamir Seminary campus with Victoria, Edmund, and Alex.
A block of sunlight on the patterned wood floor shows my skirt's curved line in shadow. The Sunday chapel service goes on around me. Young men in black cassocks dot the congregant landscape. They are bearded and rightfully appear studious. Two or three of them--my son-in-law, Alex, included--tend not to stand long in one spot. They have charges.

Little legs move amongst the people. Small chubby arms flap, bright-eyed faces upturn. Young attentions flit between activity at the front of the room, candles alight on stands, other children, and the chandelier hanging above all.

Last Tuesday night I flew into LaGuardia airport, city lights an array of beauty below. I don't tend to be impressed by cities, but far above the never-sleeping one (from a window seat) I could ponder this aspect of color and patterns with delight. At last I was arriving.

My visit to their apartment began in the wee hours. When morning came, Edmund didn't quite know what to think of this grandma who suddenly appeared amid his early Wednesday routine. He and I have since found lots to do together, such as walking on tiptoe, reading Brown Bear, and giving tight hugs. But at his current stage his preference is to keep Mommy and Daddy in view. I understand this because I was that child: blossoming in the warm light of home, my backdrop the caring, honest interaction of my parents' voices.

As we reacquainted ourselves, Edmund began sharing from his trove of enjoyables a game he learned when his other grandparents visited. It's meant, I think, to be "Ready, set, go!" which either party can say to start the other one moving quickly about the room. Ed's version sounds more like, "Ho key, gooooo!" When he says this, I zip away. He delights in my stopping so he can start me again.

Sunday morning, the church service (known as the Divine Liturgy) begins at 9:00 in the Three Hierarchs Chapel. Seminarians and their families attend. I have already walked past the building with Victoria, Alex, and Edmund when they gave me the campus tour, and I couldn't wait to be inside. Now, though, I'm left with my grandson, while Alex goes somewhere else in the church and Victoria joins the choir. This doesn't work. Edmund is distressed without Daddy; I'm awkward in front of people I don't know. So I gather Ed and whoosh out the door before both of us begin wailing. Ho key, gooooo...

Soon Alex returns and all becomes right with the world. The little guy's arms encircle his father's neck. From behind them I view Edmund's closed eyes, his blissful radiance. For my part the Liturgy is now familiar enough that, even in a different congregation with varying translations of the ancient Greek, I recognize what is happening.

I sense a temptation to feel satisfied standing here--in a ha-I-know-the-Orthodox-moves sort of fashion. But a role-playing satisfaction is the opposite of what I'm here for (it would embody true hypocrisy). If I ever take on such a thing, I'll soon weary in the toil of self-indulgent conformity. Christianity itself will become for me a shiny sticker on some chart tacked on the wall, to eventually yellow and curl. I know. I've done it before.

Alex sets Edmund down near me and my skirt's shadow in the block of sunlight. After wandering a bit, checking out other children, and squinting at the high chandelier, Ed lies on his back beside Daddy. Spreading his arms, he sweeps them and moves his legs, unconsciously making a floor angel.

I smile at my grandson. Inside I am measuring the sum of my experience against this moment, this way, this Being. I turn my gaze and wander and squint at the lighting far above.


back roads

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord throughout the length of my days.

I drove to Pleasant Hill to pick up James at work, so he could catch the train to visit his beloved, Kimi. I guess I ought to pay him for the excuse to breeze out of town on a Friday (don't tell James I said so), the countryside opening around me like a favorite story.

I used to get there taking I-5 south and then exiting onto highway 58, which zips over a bridge, past stores and a Dairy Queen, and where you navigate traffic on a couple hills heading toward Dexter and Oakridge. Driveable, but no fun. Finally I asked James the back way to the farm. Now I give myself 35-40 minutes and go via Springfield, along a short stretch of the McKenzie and past Jasper. The last section on Wheeler Road is a wonderful meander. It's worth planning ahead for.

Even though clouds sent down spatters this time, I got a certain sunny sense, as always. A freeing sigh escaped my lips. The pastures, fully greened with deciduous borders, the slopes and ascents, the health of the natural. It encompassed me, in my car on the road, passing through.

I stood in church with the choir, my whole self striving to produce the right sounds. Although my voice can usually blend it isn't strong, and when I'm the only alto, and because we sing without other instrumentation, this choir-ing is quite a focus for me, quite a road to embark upon on a Sunday. Yet the distinctiveness of acapella Orthodox singing resides in the service itself--the divine liturgy--in which every morsel is an aspect of the ancient gospel telling.

I used to sing with church choirs of various flavors; it was work and fun and performance, mostly strong and inspiring.

The choir in Orthodox services is utilitarian; it directs the flow. When you think about it, the priest is utilitarian also; he is the particular priest who takes the forward position. We in the choir are the priests providing musical flow. The rest of the congregation standing with us are the priests sharing our communion, gathered around what we believe all the evidence points to.

This doesn't negate the space inside each human for examination. Amazingly, amid this company the inner space can truly open, if the will is there. If I'm available inside myself to follow what I'm learning about this gift of the liturgy, of this road that truly meanders, I can as far as I'm able to draw near.

Meaningful facets reflect around me, and I continually marvel; there are galaxies here. My immature squeaking--though it can interrupt others seeking to enter in--can't, thankfully, sully this road, this journey toward this universe. This place I will ever long to be.



...the fig tree:When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
1. anticipating my own adventure

As I'm sure I've said before, my longing for summer makes spring my favorite season. Drippy though Oregon Aprils are, they offer previews of extended daylight, aromatic flora, and unencumbered shady afternoons in a lawn chair reading. (I can dream, anyway, about time for books in the backyard--we'll see if this year allows for such things.)

What I'm mostly looking forward to right now is a June trip to New York to visit Victoria, Alex, and Edmund (who's almost two). I'm a little nervous about being such a foreigner to my grandson. He hugged me as we said goodbye last August, but for him that was eons ago.

Lately I ponder, as well, the foreignness between people living together. Tim and I have a lot in common, but we are also exceedingly different. My bent for anticipation and savoring often bumps into Tim, who by comparison charges past me, plugging in and unplugging the modules of his existence.

If we were traveling together this summer there would be many short trips to plan and accomplish during the week in and near NYC. One reason Tim isn't going is the funds don't exist for us to do things. All I can expect is to hang out with people, which is precisely my desire. To enter into their world, take each moment as it happens. Of course I'll be learning Victoria and Alex's schedule and doing things with them, like going to their church, maybe grocery shopping, folding laundry. I expect I will babysit a time or two.

Tim hard at work on a security light for a house our church owns.
There isn't a thing wrong with Tim's way, his event supervision. If, for example, we both were in New York, planning to visit a museum, and Victoria and Alex's refrigerator broke, Tim would alter the schedule, visit parts stores, make the repairs. My husband takes life in at a glance, understanding physical needs and caring for people. I, on the other hand, will be clueless if anything breaks down, unable to diagnose. I can hold a toddler's hand for a long walk, but I can't process the unexpected until long afterward.

2. this faith adventure, separately together

It was Tim who first recognized, when we went with Victoria to her Orthodox church, that here existed something he as a believer had been seeking his whole life. He proceeded to explore, to learn, to listen, and to probe. There was no holding back on his part and no restraining him. His launch into the foreign wasn't because it was different, but rather because he saw something compelling, and he had to know more. This is my husband.

Back then I, of course, thought Tim was seeing things. He after all has been mistaken more than once. I've grudgingly let TV series run there courses that he enjoyed and I loathed. These days radio talk shows he listens to for hours drive me batty. Not that I can't see value there somewhere, but for me the problems outweigh any goodness.

Tim and I traveled to this Orthodox "country" from very different points of origin. For me things started with a slow examination, followed by an extended entering in, absorbing, until finally recognition has dawned, and it continues to grow, to build.

On a spring morning after Matins.
I follow Tim inside the church's back door--he has his key out, ready, holding it briefly til I catch up, then he's off to lower bell ropes, check the service books, turn on the speaker system he installed. I wander inside more slowly, pausing to inhale, to observe anew.

My mind and heart linger over scripture passages, people, and the teaching woven throughout the prayers and services. There is a single, momentous thing pervading all aspects of this life that at first seemed so foreign. It is that single thing to which we each draw near, differently, missing notes and fumbling something, somehow every time. But toward each of us love's welcome keeps shining. Even from the demeanors of other foreign bodies rotating fumblingly with us, experiencing another spring.

Every facet rings true to the one thing, exuding freedom with the love. Though it can be rejected, this is a rescue story. Every aspect of what we travel in and to together in its own way glimmers, like the depths of Tim's gaze, like a blessing.


light, sound, and home

Optina Monastery today. Photo by ncosmin at Trek Earth.
I've been reading the life of Elder Nektary, who spent most of his days in the Russian monastery of Optina, until the communists closed his home. This quiet, faithful man of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries appreciated art and literature. Some ponderings of his got my attention:
There exist sound and light. An artist is someone who is sensitive to these sounds and lights which others are unable to perceive. He takes them and puts them on canvas and on paper. They become colors, notes, and words. It's as though the sounds and lights have dissolved.

A book or a painting--these are the tombs of light and sound. A reader or viewer comes, and, if he is able to creatively apprehend or read, a "resurrection" of meaning takes place. And then the circle of art is completed. Light flashes in the soul of the viewer or reader, and his hearing becomes awakened to sound. For this reason an artist or poet has no particular cause for pride. He's only doing his share of the work. In vain do they suppose themselves to be the creators of their works. There is one Creator, and man only dissolves the words and images of the Creator and then revives them by the power of the spirit given by Him.
 Elder Nektary also recognized the need for writers to consider every word:
Before beginning to write, dip the pen into the inkwell seven times.
Sometimes I think I'll spend my whole life dipping my pen...

The memoir project I started last fall has reached three chapters and is being read by several friends. My daughter was the first to comment on what I'm doing. Victoria critiques well; she consistently and kindly tells me what she really thinks. She likes the third chapter. Not that she doesn't like the first two, but by the third she's on board with where I'm heading and thinks I'm doing all right. This is helpful.

Noting her comments, I guess my other volunteer readers are finding it a challenge to get into the work. If light and sound have been resurrected for them, I've yet to hear it. So it may well be I've only got one actual chapter done--the third may become the first. I'm already beginning to think through how to make changes. Part of the toil and joy of writing, of course, is solving problems.

Thankfully, nobody's kicking me out of house and home anytime soon, as far as I know.


the Paschal crescendo

Though I've spent uncounted hours the last couple months in hospital rooms, emergency departments, and doctors' offices, I have also lived a lot (as has been true the past four years) at church. Now I'm experiencing my fifth Paschal feast in Orthodox Christianity. Here, "Pascha" (which is a translation of "Passover," for the Orthodox the Passover of Christ) often falls on a different Sunday than Western Easter. Calendar changes in history are responsible for the discrepancy, but thanks to both celebrations' connection with the lunar cycle, they can fall on the same day.

This past Sunday I joined the hike up Spencer Butte, in south Eugene, to watch our Pascha sun rise. This was after our celebratory service, which began at 11:30 Saturday night and ended between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. I was, literally, the last one of the group boosted up the butte. I couldn't pull myself any higher on the boulders for the pic, below, taken by a friendly hiker from another group.

I was all in. But my smile was genuine. I'm grateful to have participated as much as I've been able to this year. This participation--what it consists of--is quite difficult to capture and express. Especially for someone who, up until four years ago, thought following a faith interpretation rooted in creative human ideas and rationality was as good as it gets on this boulder-strewn globe.

(I now appreciate more deeply the apostle Nathaniel's first reaction to being told by Philip that a man called Jesus was the longed-for Jewish Messiah. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel asked, to which his friend responded, "Come and see.")

Last Pascha (which coincided with Western Easter) I didn't hike but remained more rational, crawling into bed before dawn and dozing. My mind found words of expression, though, which kept me awake enough to record them in my notebook:

"Pascha," I wrote, "is entering into the crescendo of what is lived and expressed every month, week, and day of the year in the [Orthodox] Church.

"The elements of Pascha are always present: the aspects/tools/expressions of life in Christ (which is life "hidden" with Christ in God). No matter how fervently the bells ring, no matter how brightly the candles glow, this is a hidden life. It cannot be broadcast; it is not desired by the masses, or even by any group of people.

"It is personal. Yet it is community in a profound sense, one into which each member is born rather than initiated, having no sense beforehand of what will come, no preconceptions (at least, none that are accurate). Like siblings, the family members make room for each new child. As in any family, nothing is executed with perfection; there are many growing pains.

"Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, is always present, ever central. Life in this household (or, if you prefer, the voyage on this ship, the journey along this path) is the memorial to Christ until He appears, until He comes. It is what continually goes on. It is the food and drink, the exercise, the therapy, the struggle, the way."