Monday, May 10, 2021

Love Notes in the Sand

This morning, I walked on the beach.  My sister got great sunrise pictures on her solitary walk yesterday; I had decided to stay inside and catch up on e-mails and other social media.  While I didn't particularly want pictures, I do want to be more intentional with my time.

I was much too early for sunrise, but that's fine.  I needed to get a bit more exercise than I've been getting.  I walked and walked, and I came across this message on the beach, writing encased in a heart:

Married here


Ian and Jen

I spent part of my walk wondering about Ian and Jen.  Are they back to celebrate their 5 year anniversary?  Did their message mark the exact spot on the beach where they pledged their troth?  And if so, what was it about that stretch of beach?

I thought about how old they are.  I pictured young kids, just out of college, getting married on the beach because it was the first place where they got drunk and realized they loved each other.  But it's just as likely that they were two humans on a second or even a third marriage, two humans who felt lucky to find each other in the midst of all the heartbreak that a life can hold.

I suppose I should have wondered who was out there with me on the beach--I might have walked past Jen and Ian and not known it.  There weren't many people out there, and the message must have been put in the sand since the last high tide.

And of course, my poetry brain started thinking of the symbolism of it all, our loves and our lives washed out to sea before we know it.  Or perhaps, I should think of it differently, in a more planetary way:  matter is never destroyed, but simply transformed.  Our love may wash out to sea, becoming part of the larger ocean, the ocean that is coming for us all.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Music for Mother's Day

A year ago on Mother's Day, most of us were away from our mothers, separating Mother's Day (if we lived in the U.S.) from a distance.  This year, some of us might be fortunate enough to celebrate together, and I imagine that restaurants will do a booming business, as they usually do with these holidays.  Yesterday I was in the grocery store watching some people pick through bouquets of nice enough flowers, and I thought about all the mothers out there who would be getting flowers and chocolates and last minute gifts from the grocery store.  It's a better way of celebrating than many.

This year on Mother's Day, I could post a poem, but I'll post a link to the song that our church choir put together last year.  Go here to listen to our version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." 

We were lucky--we were standing much too close to each other, singing and recording, but happily, no one got sick.  We were not punished.

I am not crazy about my singing voice in the video. Happily, my spouse sang the verses, and he really carries us.

I remind myself that we only rehearsed the song for about 20 minutes before the worship service. After the service, we ran through it several times, and then we recorded.

In this version, as our pastor is close to us, you can hear our individual voices. I think we sound better as a chorus when you can't pick out our voices. I've been feeling bad about my singing voice since--well, forever--and I wonder if now is the time for voice lessons.

But what I love about this type of music is that it can accommodate a variety of voices. If you listen to various versions, you'll hear people who would never be successful opera singers or featured choir members. Some of those people, like the Carter family, have become musical icons.

And in the end, it's not about how wonderful we sound--it's about the joy of making music together while we can, doing our best, looking for ways to improve, knowing that the important part is to show up.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Sketching Frog and Toad

I am always intrigued by the Twitter tweets and Facebook posts that get the most likes.  On Friday, I was surprised to see that my tweet on sketching Frog and Toad had gotten the most likes of any tweet I've ever made.  Here's the sketch I made:

I created it after seeing this post that someone else had tweeted:

And then I fell down a rabbit hole looking for information about which Frog and Toad book contained that image.  I'm almost sure it's from Frog and Toad Are Friends.  I got to see other delightful images from the books and made another sketch:

The next day, I had a vision of creating a series of sketches that combines Frog and/or Toad with other beloved characters from childhood stories.  Here's one I call Frog of Green Gables:

I thought it was slightly disturbing, and not just because I couldn't get the hat right.  But I also thought it was funny and charming in an off kilter way.

Will I do more in this series?  Will there be a Toad Longstocking?  Will I send Frog and Toad to a little house on a prairie?

Stay tuned!

Friday, May 7, 2021

Students and Food Stability

 In pre-pandemic days, I would go to Publix, our local grocery store, at 5:30 a.m. every Monday.  They would give me the carts of baked goods with pull dates that would send them to the garbage if I didn't take them away.  I would spend the first hour of Monday mornings at work unloading the car and putting out day old bread for students and staff to take.  Throughout the week, I would put out plates of treats for students and staff to enjoy.  Usually, I got enough day old treats for the whole week, and despite the pull date, they would last.

I knew that some of our students had food insecurities, and I often wished that I could provide more nutritious food.  I kept some of the bread aside and put it out throughout the week, and we always had a big jar of peanut butter.  I consoled myself by thinking that at least we provided some calories and some nutrition, and I knew that for some of our students, that food was an important supplement, and for some of them, it was all they had.

A year ago, students returned to campus for labs, and our goal was to get them in and out.  We didn't put out food; in fact, we locked the student lounge.  It was the early days of the disease, when we weren't sure of the best ways to keep students safe.  We were more afraid of contagion than of hunger.

A few weeks ago, I got the reminder that the issue of student hunger hasn't gone away.  We had a student who was shaky and out of it, and when we asked him what was going on, he said he hadn't eaten in a few weeks.  We gave him a granola bar and some peanut butter crackers with some juice.

We know we can't solve the problem of student hunger, but we started strategizing.  I applied for a microgrant from Thrivent, the financial group that used to do insurance only for Lutherans only (now they do all kinds of investments for all sorts of people).  Yesterday, we did our first shopping.

We plan to have a basket of snacks and treats always available:

And we'll have something more substantial in the cabinets.  Here's the start we've made on stocking the food pantry/shelf:

Because we know that students need more help than food here and there, we'll also keep handouts with up to date information about where to get more food.  Right now, there are plenty of opportunities; my church's food pantry has never been more well funded, for example.

I'm not under any illusions.  I know that the problem of hunger is far deeper than one food pantry can solve.  But it feels good to be doing a small part to help students stay nourished and stay in school.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Finding Our Way Forward, Fully Vaccinated

Two weeks ago, I got my second COVID-19 vaccine shot.  I am now fully vaccinated.  A year ago, I couldn't have imagined that we could really roll out safe and effective vaccines in the timeline that we have.  

I realize that the world still faces severe challenges; the situation in India is ghastly, and it's probably not the last time we will see the disease spiral out of control in a country.  I think this disease is here to stay, and we will never eradicate it or even come close, the way we have with other diseases, which are still here, but which rarely infect us because of how we've vaccinated most of the babies in the world.

But today I am vaccinated, and as they are available, I will get booster shots to keep my immunity high.  I may keep wearing masks too.  Like many people, my spouse and I have not gotten any sort of cold in the past year.  We usually get one doozy of a cold per year, plus times when we're fighting off a smaller cold.  Since March of 2020, we've gotten nothing.

I started using the phrase "I am fully vaccinated" after I got the second shot.  When I took the church deposit to the bank, I asked the person at the ATM if he minded if I came beside him and used the overnight drop box; for the past 15 months, I've asked this question, and so far, no one has ever minded.  The Sunday after the 2nd vaccine shot, I told the older black man at the ATM that I was fully vaccinated, and he said, "I trust God to keep me safe."  At first, I thought he meant something else, and then he said, "Trust God; don't trust the vaccine!"  

As is always the case with faulty theology, I thought about having a conversation.  But we were strangers, paths not likely to cross again.  I decided not to talk about a God who keeps us safe by giving us brains and scientists and vaccines.

There are moments when I think about all the events that have transpired in the past 15 months, and I catch my breath.  Have we really been living through a global pandemic?  Have we really experienced this level of devastation and kept going?  

Yes, yes we have.

Last night, I got a phone call:  friends/former colleagues were taking their nightly drive in their convertible and in the neighborhood; could they come by?  They did, and we sat outside, even though we're all fully vaccinated.  It was a lovely time of catching up after not seeing them for a year.

In fact, it was exactly a year ago that I brought a textbook to her house, which I wrote about in this blog post.  At that time, we were still reeling from what was happening in terms of the pandemic.  Now, we're still reeling in some significant ways, but we're finding our way forward.

Finding our way forward, fully vaccinated:  that seems like a label for our time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

All the Pastors I've Known--and Will Know

The other day my spouse said that he knew over 100 pastors.  At first I thought he was exaggerating, and then we started to count; sure enough, we do know lots of pastor people.  We grew up as Lutherans, so there's our past pastors.  We went to a small, liberal arts Lutheran college which prepared students for ministry, and many of them went on that journey.  We've gone to a variety of gatherings and stayed in touch with some of those pastors, and we've kept going to camp as adults.  Some of our pastor friends have pastor children.

Almost everyone I know is in the education field or the pastor field.  In part, that's because those are the only fields that give parents some flexibility.  I have known lots of single moms who are frank about their needs to have a work life that meets the vacation schedule of the public schools where their children attend, so they often find jobs in the public schools.

It's an interesting time to be planning to go to seminary.  This past year of COVID-19 has created lots of pastor burnout, and I know that many pastors are making post-pastor-life plans.  I am thinking of all the classmates I had who went on to seminary right after undergraduate school.  Some of them have already retired.

As I've been more and more open about my seminary plans, I've heard from one classmate who is also planning to attend seminary this fall.  Like me, she's already had one career.  Like me, that career was in education.  Another friend who I know from Create in Me retreats had been to seminary once before, but she didn't go the MDiv/ordination route, choosing instead to get a Master's degree.  After working in church settings, she realized that more doors would open if she had gotten that degree, so she went back to complete it.  She has just been ordained.

In fact, she's the one who told me about the scholarships that made me think it might be possible for me to go back to school.  I checked into the onground intensive coupled with distance learning approach of the only Lutheran seminary that offered it at the time.  Luther Seminary required a 2 week onground intensive twice a year, and two weeks away at one time is tough for an administrator.  It's probably tough for most people in a non-church setting.

We had a congregational meeting on Sunday, and it was the first time that some of my fellow church members have heard about my plans, the first time that they've heard that my campus is closing at some later point, probably this year.  We also heard that I will be the first seminary student that comes from my congregation since the early 90's.  In some ways, that says a lot about the trajectory of my local church, which is probably similar to many churches:  fewer families, fewer college age kids, fewer people with resources who can go to seminary.

It will be interesting in future years to read accounts of these times.  How many people are making decisions that they might not otherwise have made if the disease hadn't come along to show life in a different light?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Violence of Collision: Interstellar Space, Flannery O'Connor and Other Inspirations

I've been thinking about how we conceptualize mortality:  do we use images of moistness (mold, exploding cells, rot) or dryness (bones with no flesh, aridness)?  This morning, I tried writing a poem that used those images along with cicadas.  I thought about incorporating ideas about breast cancer.  I read this article about menopause and thought about using some of those ideas.  I was listening to Friday news round up show on NPR, which covered the death of the astronaut who stayed in the ship as the two men walked on the moon for the first time.

From there, I started a new poem about astronauts and satellites and interstellar space.  And now I have 2 rough drafts and a head full of ideas about interstellar space.  The second poem makes the most sense to me, but the first poem made some unexpected leaps.

Now I will let it all percolate.  Maybe tomorrow I'll revisit these drafts or maybe I'll start with something fresh.

Let me record two other ideas before they fade away from me:  this morning I thought about returning to my poems that may be making a series, my poems about Noah and Noah's wife.  Perhaps the few that aren't about Noah's wife I should refashion into poems about Noah's wife.  And this morning, I thought about writing a poem about Noah's wife and cicadas who emerge after 17 years to mate for a month or two (or the whole season of summer).  I'm thinking of Noah's wife and menopause and sweeping away the dried husks.

And my other inspiration: one of my Create in Me female pastor friends made this Facebook post about visiting a congregation to talk about South Carolina retreat centers:  "How wonderful to eat ice cream in a cemetery on a sunny day surrounded by all the saints."

I loved this image--could I do something with it in a poem?  It also reminded me of the graveyard that was beside the campus of my undergraduate school.  Some people found it creepy, but I found it peaceful to take walks back there, to read work for class, to have the occasional picnic.  One of my college friends had his grandfather's grave in that very cemetery.

It also seems like a very Flannery O'Connor kind of detail, which made me think about possible short stories.  But so far, I've got nothing--except for this strange realization that much as I love O'Connor's short stories, they show a sort of meanness and cruelty.  I was thinking about the woman and the traveling salesman who is interested in her wooden leg and how she doesn't have perfume, so she dabs some sort of nasal spray on her neck.  Am I remembering correctly?  And I always see her as pathetic, but lately, I'm beginning to think I may be more like her than I want to realize.

Of course, that thought is so disturbing that I turn away.  Am I like her in her snootiness?  Am I like her in that I am a pathetic excuse for modern womanhood?  Am I like her in that I am vulnerable in ways I don't even like to consider?  Yes, to answer all those questions.

And if I'm a kind scholar, I would say that's the point.   O'Connor's stories work like Christ's stories:  to warn us, to call us to our better selves.  But yesterday morning, I had my doubts.  Maybe she was just delighting in the foibles of humans and meanspiritedly showing how we're all just dupes.  Maybe she sat aloof and judgmental and Godlike.  Her theology is not always (or often?) my theology, so I could see her view of God coinciding with ideas of aloofness and the violence of collision.

The Violence of Collision:  if I was writing a book of scholarly criticism on O'Connor, that's what I would title it.

But now, on to more mundane things:  time to get ready for a Tuesday work day, which hopefully will not include collisions.