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."



Sunrise over the Three Sisters, Oregon, on April 12 (Orthodox Easter) from Spencer Butte, Eugene
My break from blogging and social networks took an unexpected turn when my dad underwent open heart surgery February 27. But the timing was good. Now Dad travels new roads of healing and hurting and recovery and decline.

How fragile the body which ages. And yet also how strong. A lot of years turn beneath the atmosphere, amid the stress, engaged with tragedy and with beauty. These decades of inhaling sweet breezes, for those of us who receive decades, are long but limited. Every heartbeat is another tiny descent, another spending of the allotment. Ah, glorious transaction.

Green-yellow "chicklets" on the front maple have arrived again. Today crimson leaf-babies shine in the rain. Around the tree's girth lie piles of old gray ones, their bodies once having ridden high, now composting below, nourishing fruit and flower.

Though so familiar, each fresh leaf is unique, distinct; only the process repeats itself. In nature, in creation, there are no reused entities. "My" maple will someday join its leaves in repose, and there won't be a copy saved, but the essence of treeness will continue.

Yet what is man? In "his" essence, in humanity, a unique twig and leafkin comes to be, to exist and to flower, and sometimes to undergo surgery. There is more in each human being than meets the eye. More, I believe, than sense can apprehend, and so the day of reposing in "sleep" will have more to it, as well. It's unknowable right now, a mystery past understanding, but it awaits this withering leaf. I tend to be one pondering such things.


two and a remembrance

It's eleven in the morning and I'm still in my pjs. My second chapter is finished. This is nice. It's not the main thing or everything, but it's nice. (The not being dressed part not included.)

Even nicer, though, is sunshine. I will attempt to greet the day outside, soon, in proper apparel.

It's interesting that the events I'm memoiring about all started exactly four years ago today. This morning I mused regarding how my life is different. Much has changed. Much has been lost. There was a lot to grieve over. This includes so much ego on my part.

To be humbled is...well, not fun. But the word itself denotes a caring way and means of turning. Unlike being chastised, or disciplined, or accosted. Being humbled happens due to the reality of sacrifice. Of love. Of what is deeply existing. It's really, truly good for the soul. Especially the prideful one, mine.


freely given

Beginning my first blog post of this year reminds me... our Christmas tree is still up. Yes, it's bristle-brush dry, but once in a while when you pass it the whiff of the forest exudes, and you think it's not so bad to have it around just one more morning... and maybe another.

Life is very full. I wrangle structure inside my book's second chapter. Now I have read chapter one aloud to three people besides Tim, and I've fiddled a lot more with it. Last week I went with my parents to the coast (someone had to drive them; I made the sacrifice, and so did James, the heavy lifter). Ahead of time I imagined all the writing I would do there. As it was, I spent one afternoon out of three draped over a chair arm gazing at the waters of Depoe Bay and returning to my prose every so often. It did help to some degree with the wrangling.

I'm thinking I will be gone (from here, at least) a long time again soon. I might stay completely off the internet during the season of Great Lent, which begins the end of this month. There are stories ringing interiorly that I've listened to these past four years which will help impel me, if I do stay away, to embark on the journey. Monks and nuns of old withdrew during Lent into the desert. I can't even express how frightful and compelling that sort of solitude is to my heart.

It is in the heart, I have come to think, that the landscape of human life unfolds. The deepest places reveal themselves. There is a way to reach them; to do so is a gift freely given to mankind. This is, as I see it, the central message of Christianity as first delivered. The God, whom Christians believe is the only such one, desires to make a home with the Human. Adam. Me. The being God formed in his image from the soil. Such soil became dust due to a rebellion freely chosen. Such dust is renewed due to the amazing desire of God to rescue the lost sheep, the unimaginable free act of entering into dust to restore it, to heal any and all who freely desire the healing. This all is wrought in humility. Wrought in God.

Whether gazing into nature's deep beauty or practicing the mundane ordinariness of house and home, Christians seek and wrangle (during Lent and always) with a much tougher problem than sentences, memories, rewrites, and printer ink replacement. God willing, we strive at and with and in the difficult gate. Like a weathered highway, the Orthodox church's services guide me to it, to the rock of striving with myself, with my circumstance. There dwell God's faith and humble ways, as over against my relentless pride and self-interest.

For me it's a beauty the tireless motion of breakers begins to sing about, the endless sand whispers of barely commencing, daring a leap to the uncovered boulders at low tide.


chapter and legend

For the first time, probably ever, I've been writing in December. Little bits per sitting, almost every weekday. Steadily creeping along. As of today I have 3000 words. A completed chapter.

This morning I read it aloud to Tim, the first person who's heard it. I guess a few weeks ago Tim heard part of a paragraph, as I was trying to describe something about him and asked for his input. There's this legend, sort of, that gets told by people who work (or worked) with him at the TV station. One winter during a storm he kept the transmitter from going off air using a paper clip and duct tape. Or so I thought I'd heard.

Tim corrected me. There was no duct tape. He explained in detail how he bent the paper clip to make contact with circuity thingies (not his words), which fooled the transmitter into staying on.

As much as I would love to have Tim's voice in my story depicting his engineering adventure, I opted to remain focused on my narrative. I expressed Tim having accomplished his feat "using his wits and a straightened paper clip." (They start out bent, right? So it must have been that he straightened it.)

This, I learned today, is not quite correct, because while Tim did straighten the paper clip's original bendedness, he employed it in his own bendy design to carry out his rescue of the station. After hearing me read nearly 3000 words, Tim offered this as his only concern about my writing. Which I loved.

Not that I won't desire feedback from other sources, which will certainly give me many changes to ponder. But Tim's thoughts are supremely valuable. Outside my writing world, yet so close to my stories in his very own way.

Together we concluded it's most correct to say he used his wits and a contorted paper clip. So there you have it. The synopsis of my first 3000 words.