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The Sea

There is pleasure in the pathless wood, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes by the deep sea, and music in its roar;  . . .  Lord Byron

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau

I want to tell you about the sea.  And though I have shared my sea stories with you before, this feels different to me.  In the past, it always has begun with a cove in Maine, the place of my childhood summers and my many adult visits to my mother who lived there until her death five years ago.  It is easy to write about a cove, a specific one in Casco Bay called Fish House Cove, a cove you can conjure up in your mind in this moment, with its daily turns of the tide and its green shadowy waters that transform to sparkly blue when the breeze blows off the shore, a cove that is a haven for the schools of mackerel and the lobsters who crawl on the sandy bottom by the haul-off rock, and the great blue heron who roosts each night in the tallest of pines.  I have done my best to squeeze this cove into poems and short stories and tidy essays with titles like “Fog” and “First Swim” and “On My Mother’s Deck”, have done my best to wring the salt right out of its essence — some of it, at least — to sprinkle across the page.  I’ve tried my hardest to bring to life the smell of the balsam trees, the rotting seaweed, the faint whiff of fish mingling with the freshness of ocean, to encapsulate this smell in a string of words with borders and boundaries and grammatical rules.  It is not a big cove.  Its beach is a Size Small, its rocks, a Medium, and it has been my reliable partner, providing me with decades of material to feast upon.  And it has been enough.

So, what do I do now?  What do I do with all this sea, all this wide open ocean?  I don’t know how to contain it  — because how do you contain it, the whole of the Atlantic at your left shoulder?  Maybe you could put something down on the page if you were staying put in one place, getting to know a stretch of shoreline, its sandpipers and tide pools and rocky outcrops.  But that’s not what we did, my friend Mary and I, last October.  There was no staying put on this northbound trek along the coast of northern Portugal.  For the first seven days of a three hundred-plus kilometer pilgrimage on foot from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostilo, Spain, we clung to the coast.  After receiving our initial stamp in our pilgrim passports at Porto’s magnificent cathedral, we spent our first hours walking along the banks of the wide Duoro River on cobblestone paths.  The tide was low, the river quiet, the estuary filled with gulls and herons and shorebirds, and the air tinged with the scent of seaweed and mudflats.  This was all familiar to me, a gal raised at the mouth of a tidal river in Maine.  It wasn’t until we rounded the corner to a wide cobblestone promenade that it happened, that Mary and I were blasted with the thunder of the north Atlantic.  We heard its thunderous waves for days.  Sure there were the fishing villages, the protective break walls, the occasional river town, but mostly it was the sea, the raw and wild sea, that was our constant companion.

As Mary and I walked northward — sometimes barefoot in clean squeaky sand, sometimes on piles and piles of smooth tumbled stones, sometimes high above the beach in grassy dunes or on boardwalk paths, in morning fog, in noon-day sparkle, at dusk as sunsets stretched the wide panoramic length of the horizon, there it was — the sea at our left shoulder.  The blue water, the salty air, the gentlest of breezes, the waves rolling into shore.  It didn’t even have to work at seduction.  It had me — and Mary, too — from that first moment, when we rounded the corner and set our eyes upon it, that first thunderous wave, that first glorious sunset, the one that seemed to stretch on for hours.  It was healing balm, a powerful elixir, and there was nothing to do but let go and allow it to work its magic, nothing to do but melt into the wonder of it, to forget about words, about tidy poems, a single sandcastle story, an essay about a lone gull, maybe one called Bop Bop who was your friend for years.  This was something new, this ten hours a day of sheer ocean pleasure.

Sometimes the beach grass glistened and we were sun-soaked.  Sometimes we were sure there was a song in the air, something Irish and ballad-like.  And, if we stood still for a moment and focused on the horizon, we were pretty sure we could almost see it, a Portuguese sailing vessel of old, a mermaid’s tail sparkling in the sun, a whole of the history of humankind rolling in on the waves.  And that’s what I want to tell you, that the sea softened us, to everything, to the people we met, to the villages we walked through, to the multitude of magical-seeming synchronicities waiting for us along our pilgrim path.  We allowed ourselves to be tumbled, soft and smooth like those incredible stones piled high on the beaches.  And it has stayed with me, and with Mary too, this tumbled-open feeling, this allowing of something grand and unspeakable.   And it is easy to conjure it up, to close my eyes and put myself in that place once again, that sea-soaked happy heart space that cannot be contained within the boundaries of a cove, that overflows over the borders of a bay, that knows no borders and no boundaries and is limitless in its welcoming power and is available to us all.

 

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Along the northern Portuguese coast: October 2016

Kauai

Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.  Rumi

“Did you try surfing?!?”  It was the logical question for my friend Keith to ask when  my husband Cam and I ran into him at the Detroit Airport last month on our way home from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii.  After all, for years now, I’ve been saying it out loud, in a really loud voice, with bravado, how, someday, I’m going to get myself up on one of those boards and ride a rolling wave into shore.  Here in Upper Michigan, where Keith and a whole tribe of diehards practice the sport, it is a sight to behold.  We don’t have the warm waters of Hawaii, the pause between ocean waves, the palm tree breezes and fresh pina coladas waiting on shore.  We have Lake Superior.  And the surfing is best on this greatest of Great Lakes when the weather is at its worst.  When the north winds are howling and the snow is flying and the lake isn’t quite frozen yet and the waves are thrashing against the sandstone cliffs and sandy beaches, the cars are lined up at our local peninsula park, and the wet-suited men and women, looking like excited skinny seals with fast-moving legs, can be seen clutching their boards while running toward the wild water.  And often, I’m right there with them, just feet away on shore, whooping and hollering and cheering them on as they paddle out into the frigid bay.  And when they catch one of those crazy choppy Great Lake waves, my heart skips a beat and I can almost feel myself sailing along with them.  Yes, surfing is in my blood, and, it’s true; I really do want to try it.

And the desire to be in the presence of a whale is on my bucket list, too.  I often draw a card from a fifty-two card deck called “Earth Magic” that I keep in my creativity room, and, in the weeks before this family trip to Kauai as I focused my attention on intention for the adventure, the image that kept ending up in my hand was of the whale.  Again and again, it was the magnificent breaching mammal that seemed to have a message for me.  And this message seemed loud and clear — I assumed that I was to see one in Kauai, maybe one arching out of the water with a mighty push of power beyond what I had ever experienced.  So, when we — all eight of us, my husband Cam and I, our two sons and their wives, and our two grandkids — congregated in our vacation rental home in Princeville, Kauai late that first night early in January, we excitedly called out our desires helter-skelter before falling into bed jet-lagged and Hawaii-happy after our long day of plane travel.  We wanted beach time and hiking trips and fresh fruits and fish.  We wanted to lounge and swim and explore our island home.  And I’m sure I hollered out something about a possible surfing lesson and the opportunity to see a whale, a real whale, up close and personal.

So nine days later, at the airport in Detroit, when Keith asked me about surfing, I think he was surprised by my reply.  “No,” I said.  “I didn’t surf.  And I didn’t see a whale either!”  Well, I might have seen a whale.  Most people in my family did, somewhere out there on that very blue horizon.  And when I squinted, I thought I spied a whitecap splash that might have been a spout or a breach, but I couldn’t say for sure, and I’m not counting it.  I think that Keith might have been disappointed.  He knew how much surfing means to me, and he might have thought that I was sacrificing my keen desire for the wants of others.  But, that wasn’t the case at all.  And this conversation with my friend helped me to clarify in my own mind what was important to me about this trip to the south sea state of Hawaii.  And, if it wasn’t the thrill of getting myself up and catching a wave, or the awe of finding myself in the mighty presence of the largest of mammals, then what was it about our family trip that touched me so deeply, that I have taken into my heart and carried forward into my living?

Well, I was there with my family.  And it isn’t easy to get a family of eight — a family consisting of three separate families — together for a week, let alone together thousands of miles away from any of their homes, away from busy schedules, and onto planes, and into the most beautiful and perfect of rental homes during the busiest time of the year on a Hawaiian island.  And it is feat unto itself and a tribute to each and every member of this family that there was laughter and love and a “We had a blast and let’s do it again!” on the last day of this adventure.  When we finally arrived home after our two-day delay in Detroit, my husband fell onto our bed and, with tears in his eyes and awe in his voice, said that he couldn’t believe it, that we really had done it.  And I knew what he meant, that we not only did it, manifested a trip that gathered us all together, but that it was wonderful.

And when I think about what made it wonderful, it wasn’t surfing or whales or anything dramatic.  I know that four-year-old Viren loved the muddy inland hike through the jungle, where there was no avoiding puddles, and Grandpa was the perfect goofball partner.  And I know that the calm lagoons and the wide-open beaches and the waves that splashed and tickled his feet and sent him gleefully running to shore were highlights.  But when we asked him what he liked best about Kauai, it was the shower in his bedroom suite with the giant shower-head that he said was his favorite.  He couldn’t get enough if it; it was the shower that he bee-lined for each time we made our way back to our Princeville rental.  And for Addie, his one-and-a-half-year-old cousin, who also appreciated beaches and jungle walks and squealed with delight each time she was dipped in the water or toddle-ran along the shoreline or floated in the plastic-duck-inflatable tube, it was the ordinary that set her into a frenzy.  And maybe the sight of roosters strutting across yards and into streets and onto beaches is not what we call ordinary in our hometowns in Michigan and Idaho, but, in Kauaii, it is as common as common can be.  Not for Addie, though, who went wild each time she saw one.  All week long, she’d point her stubby little finger and hunch one of her teeny shoulders and run as fast as her little legs would carry her toward her fleeing target.  She never tired of rooster-chasing.

And I can’t speak for my kids or Cam.  I’m not sure what they would say was their highlight.  But I can tell you that one son mentioned that it had been a long time since he had worked so little.  And the other sang as he cooked our fish on the outdoor grill each night.  And it is etched in my mind, the excited look on a daughter-in-law’s face when she ran back to shore after snorkeling — and the peaceful ease on the other daughter-in-law’s as she sprawled on the beach with the Na Pali Coastline at her left shoulder and the impossibly blue ocean before her.  And Cam, the fly-fisherman, might say that it was the three bone fish that he fluttered up to on his first attempt at snorkeling, but I don’t think that was it, the true highlight.  At night, Cam, with salty wayward hair, would sit on a living room couch, with the happiest of expressions on his face, and he would soak it in, the commotion around him, the commotion of a family being a family.  I think that is what he would say was the highlight, the everything of being with family.  And I, the gal who thought she needed surfing and whales, would agree with him.

P.S.  The day I returned from Kauaii, I flipped through the guidebook that accompanies my Earth Magic Cards, and found the reflection related to the whale.  Change your perspective, the reflection advised, see the world through new eyes, make the ordinary extra-ordinary.

Sometimes it takes a trip to an extra-ordinary island to appreciate the ordinary sweetness of family!

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Our family in Kauaii, January 2017.  And Happy Buddha in our Princeville rental’s back yard.  Each morning, the grandkids and I rubbed his belly and placed a hibiscus on his head and said to the world that it was going to be a good day!!!

(This blog was originally written as an e-mail to friends on the Monday after the Women’s March.)

This is not a moment; it’s the movement    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Today is our holy moment to quantum leap over the impossible and make love to the Possible.  We-M00n Calendar

Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism.  And when you face politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial insurrection.  Rebecca Solnit

I am lying in bed in a motel in the Detroit area stuck in airport limbo for the second time in less than two weeks.  On our way back from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii, my husband Cam and I spent an extra couple of days here in lower Michigan as heavy winds and snow blew across our northern woods.  It was a chance to acclimate once again to our time zone and rest up before heading back into our busy lives.  And during this travel delay, I received an e-mail reminding members of our community about a project, a one hundred day challenge to open up to some sort of daily creativity, a challenge that was to begin on January twenty-first.  I’ve participated in this challenge in the past.  One year, I focused on photographs of fashion and the fashion of living; the next, I dug into my grandfather’s archives.  This year, the theme centers on “Where dreams and darkness meet.”  Two weeks ago, the challenge wasn’t lighting my fire.  I already claim time for daily creative practices, and, in my Capricorn step by step way, am pretty good at the follow-through.  Besides, as the new year began to unfold, I was wanting something different, a form of expression that could shine my light outward, something to connect me with the world at large.  But this morning, as I woke up in motel limbo, I was clear.  I am participating in the challenge, have already started the project, on time, and will continue it for one hundred days, a project that is both self-reflective and outward-focused and exactly right for me in this moment.

Last night, when I arrived at the motel, I plunked myself down on the bed after a weekend of so much fullness, and I listened to it all, to every speaker whose voice had risen out into the forty-five degree Washington air at Saturday’s Women’s March, to all the women and the men who had sung and spoken so passionately, who I could see two days before on a screen when signs were not entertaining and inspiring and blocking the view, but could not hear.  In the sea of half a million people, our group of eight college students and my political science professor niece, and I, the grandma, were not that far way, just around the corner from the stage, squished against a tree, connecting and visiting with those pressed up against us while one speaker after another said and sang their piece.  I told my new friends, college undergraduates from a university in New Jersey, that we were soaking it in, receiving the vibes, and I believe we were.  It was palpable the excitement in the air, and, when Gloria Steinem, cloaked in a bright red shawl, took the stage, the air was hair-standing-on-end-electric.  We cheered as Gloria spoke.  We cheered often during our standing-still time, we people pressed against each other, for the words we are just now hearing on cell phones and computers.  And it seemed okay not to hear at the time.  We were present, part of a sea of people envisioning equality and inclusivity and love for our planet and for each other.  And most of the time, we only could see our one bay in this ocean of people.  But, once in a while, a boy or girl on a mom’s or dad’s shoulders would report down to us from a broader view, tell us how the sea spread in every direction and you couldn’t make out the other shore.  That’s how big it was.

And then, we, in our bay in the sea, who could not hear instructions and could not stand still forever, noticed that the speakers seemed to be leaving the stage, and, in a great single wave, we began to move, slowly at first and then a little faster in the direction of the monument. For a few minutes, it seemed as though we had more space and a broader perspective, and, it was from this broader perspective, when I looked around in all directions that my breath escaped with a gasp.  It was the “ocean” I saw, an expanse of people in pink hats of all shades and styles, and of signs bobbing up and down like waves on the sea’s surface and a sea of sounds too, of chants.  And that’s what I want to tell you.  Even as we became squished again, even as we halted our pace to a skitter-walk down the mall and into the streets, even as we spilled this way and that, not in one path, but in many toward the house of the president, the sea remained buoyant. There was empowerment in the air.  And hope.  And vision, too. “Black Lives Matter!” we chanted. “This is what democracy looks like!” we cried out.  My niece and I remarked that this was historic, that we were changed.   And as we walked along, my niece, who knows Washington, commented on how little security there seemed to be, how relaxed it all was.  Officers were leaning against their cars chatting with women wearing pink-eared hats.  There were smiles everywhere you looked and an ease underneath the charge of excitement.

From the moment I got on the plane in Detroit late Friday night, to the hotel shuttle ride in Washington even later to the walk to the metro the next morning, to the packed-with-pink-hatted-marchers-ride over to Navy Archives to meet my group, to the day that stretched out before us, I was heartened by the smiles — and by the kindness and the humor, the determination and the strong focus on inclusivity in this sea of pink-hatted humanity.  Feminine power was unleashed by this march and I was uplifted and carried forward and a part of it.  We did make it to the White House and the Treasury Building, without water or pee breaks — we skittered and marched, chanted and sang and kept track of each other, and, finally, in the early evening, we squished our way onto the metro heading toward the Greenbelt, tired and happy, hungry and thirsty.  And even a broken-down metro train and an almost two-hour wait with us inside stacked like pink-hatted sardines didn’t dampen our spirits.  There was more singing and a sharing of water and candy and a great buoyant cheer when another train pushed ours to the station.  And later, after a much-appreciated dinner and a four-hour van ride back to New Jersey with my new student friends, I fell into the guest room bed at my niece’s home, filled up with it all.  The whole event had meant the world to me.

And we are the world.  And that brings me back to my community’s creative challenge. Two weeks ago, stuck in the airport after the family trip to Kauai, I hadn’t been clear about a project.  It was the March on Washington that brought me the clarity, the March that brought speaker after speaker onto the stage, challenging us to stand up for what we believe in, to find our voices, to take action, to get involved, to write letters to our congressional leaders, to make phone calls, to make it easy, a habit.  I don’t know whether I will do these things daily.  I do know, however, that my desire to attend the March had been fierce, that a cancelled morning flight due to fog, an afternoon delay, a missed connection to Baltimore Friday evening, that none of these things had stopped me from showing up in Washington with literally nothing but the clothes on my back.  I see now that my spirit had depended upon it, that I had needed to be a part of that great sea of people, to feel that wave of positivity washing over the world that day.  It was a patriotic march and I am feeling patriotic.  And every day, for one hundred days, I will do something that reflects my patriotism.  Yes, I will make phone calls and sign petitions and take action that feels inspired from the inside out.  And I will smile at my neighbors and at strangers, too, and I will reach up and I will remember to hold on with heart and soul to that high vibe energy that I felt at the March, and from that place where a positive inclusive loving vision is possible for this country and for this planet, I will rise up and speak out and shine my light brightly.

 

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Two signs amongst the sea of signs at the Women’s March on Washington, 1/21/17

Be Brave

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.  Michelle Obama

It was a whim, an afterthought, a last minute purchase from Lowes, the multi-colored plastic sled that Grandpa Cam bought for four-year-old grandson Viren who had traveled from Idaho with his parents for a holiday visit in Upper Michigan.  It wasn’t a fancy sled, and none of us expected it to be a pre-Christmas hit, but the snow had arrived in Marquette County and the sledding hill at Al Quaal in Ishpeming that Viren’s dad had sailed down in his flying saucer when he was a boy was groomed and ready for a go.  So that’s where we ended up, Viren, his Mom and his Dad and me, Grandma Helen, on the Tuesday afternoon before Christmas.  The hill was steeper than I remembered, and bumpy, and we were alone on this particular afternoon, with our multi-colored plastic sled, and four-year-old Viren seemed way too young for such a flight.  But fly down it he did, time after time, hardly waiting for us to set him straight, hardly waiting for the instructions we hollered into the wind.  “Hang on tight!  Keep your legs steady.”  And we, the adults, laughed and shrieked as we ran down after him, and we prayed that this plastic multi-colored sled and the boy hanging on would eventually skid to a safe and happy halt.

I was content in the cheerleading role, as witness to my fearless grandson and his wild sailing capers, but he wanted more from me.  He expected more from me.  After all, I’m Grandma Helen, his partner in play.  “Climb on, Grandma Helen!” he pleaded each time we set the sled atop the hill.  “Climb on, Grandma Helen; you’ll like it!”  He didn’t need the company.  He was a happy sledder going solo.  He just thought that it would be fun for the two of us to share in the adventure.  Through several runs, I held off his pleas.  “I might get hurt,” I said.  “I’m scared,” I admitted.  And I was scared, slightly scared of getting hurt, and really scared of this steep bumpy hill and the sheer unbridled untethered speed that this cheap little sled took on.  And if I was really honest with myself, I also was scared that I was going to regret that my fear was holding me back from something that looked like a blast, an absolute out-of-control blast.  And it was on the climb back up the hill after a multitude of Viren’s wild rides that he said to me the magic words, the ones I needed to hear.  And he said them with the utmost sincerity.  “Be brave, Grandma Helen.  Be Brave!”

God!!!  What is a Grandma supposed to do with that level of sincerity?!?  He believed in me.  Could I believe that purely in myself?!?  Did I have the kind of courage it takes to look past a fear and admit that I did want to climb on board, that I did desire the experience of going full-throttle down that hill, that I didn’t want to live with regret?  So, I, the gal who dips her toes into the water before the plunge, who snowplows down the steep ones on her cross-country skis, took a risk.  With Viren’s words ringing in my ears, I just did it, plopped my bottom down on that plastic multi-colored plastic sled, wrapped my legs around Viren who rode the front and held onto those handles with heart and soul as Viren’s dad gave us the nudge, the nudge that set us flying.  And it was like flying, flying over those bumps, flying above the ground, flying and shrieking and hooting and hollering and laughing and sailing and gliding farther than that little sled had ever slid before.  It was wonderful.  It was exhilarating.  It was brave.  And it stayed with me all afternoon and into the evening and through the week before Christmas and into another sail down the hill — the thrill of the ride, and the pride that I had done it, something that took courage, something that pushed me out of my comfort zone and over the edge.

“Be brave, Grandma Helen.  Be brave!”  I know that Viren was speaking to my soul, that it wasn’t just about the sled and the hill and that particular ride.  He was calling me forth.  And I’ve taken his words to heart and they live in me and here I stand, in the beginning of a fresh new year looking out on ground that has never been tread upon.  In what ways will I allow myself to be brave?  Sometimes it takes courage and a giant gulp to let the thrill bumps nudge me forward into a new challenge, something I’ve never done before.  Sometimes it is speaking my truth when I know that others might not agree that calls on my courage.  And always it is brave to go inward and breathe and find alignment with Source, to keep at it and at it and at it, to operate from this place, and to bring this level of empowerment and light out into the world on a daily basis.  It is brave to be light-filled.  It is brave to be joy-filled.  It is brave to love unconditionally.  It is brave to be sincere.  It is brave to shriek and holler and have a blast flying down a hill.  It is brave to have fun.  I want to be brave.

Happy new year — and let’s be brave!

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Viren and Grandpa Cam at Lakenenland, Marquette County, Michigan: December, 2016

The Portuguese Way: Fatima

This past October, my friend Mary and I walked the Portuguese Way, one of the ancient pilgrimage Camino paths that St James followed on his ministry, from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.   And, on boardwalks and sand dunes and cobblestone streets along the northern coast of Portugal and then into Spain on ancient Roman roads and bridges and through villages and eucalyptus and pine forests, we were gifted with stories and kindness and magical moments galore.  We opened our hands and our hearts and our souls and the gifts landed gently and soaked in deeply.  And during an especially mild November back home here in northern Michigan, day after day, I sat on the shore of Lake Superior and allowed these stories to flow through me and onto the page.  And now I’m typing them up to share with you in the coming weeks as I allow them to soak in even deeper.

Fatima

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is but I do know how to listen.  Mary Oliver

The world is in truth a holy place.  Teillard de Chardin

In my ideal world, it is all prayer, the moment to moment living, the intention to allow myself to be filled up with the wonder that I know is available.  This type of prayer requires no memorization, no formalities of place and time, just a willingness to pay attention, to be present.  And it comes naturally when I relax into it — the way dressing with flair and fun also comes naturally.  But give me a formal occasion, say a wedding, an art exhibit, a holiday party, and I freak.  What to wear?!?  My flip flops will never do, and the layers I usually don with delight suddenly seem juvenile, like something a five-year-old might have thrown together.  An invitation for dressing up or for formally praying throws me into a tailspin.

And I was feeling it a bit, the not knowing quite how to do this, when Mary, my dear friend and soon-to-be partner for two-and-a-half-weeks of walking on the Portuguese Camino to Santiago de Compostela announced that members of her very Catholic family had their hearts set on us stopping at Fatima on our way up north to Porto the day before we officially started the Camino trek.  Fatima is a holy place in Portugal, the nearest town to the village where three shepherd children, while playing in the field in the spring of 1917, first saw a great flash of light and an apparition of the Virgin Mary who spoke to them, and showed herself to these three children and to many others in that same field throughout the summer and fall of 1917.  And ever since, it has been its own pilgrimage destination for the people of Portugal and for Catholics throughout the world.

My friend Mary is from a family with ten siblings, many of them practicing Catholics who were cheering us on to pray for them in this sacred town.  And other friends also jumped on board the prayer bus when they heard that we would be stopping in Fatima.  “Say a prayer for me!” many a friend exclaimed with excitement.  And that’s what threw me into a tizzy.  I don’t know the formal rituals.  Should I buy a rosary and clutch the beads, one by one, the way I do my Sanskrit strands of gemstones? And what do I say?  I don’t know the rosary.  I don’t know the Catholic prayers.  I don’t  even know whether to stand or kneel.  It was a weight of prayerful responsibility  I was carrying that felt as heavy as my Osprey backpack as we stepped off the bus from Lisbon and into the clear blue noontime sun of Fatima on that October day.  Our heavy loads, the physical ones, at least, were lightened considerably and almost immediately when we discovered a storage room in the bus station where our backpacks would be safe and sound for the two hours of this Fatima adventure before picking them up again and boarding the next bus north to Porto and the start of our Camino walk.

And we were still at the bus station, outside at one of the kiosks asking directions to the cathedrals, when the weight of my prayer-tizzy began to dissipate, too, and my comfortable every day spirituality took over.  It was the children who put me at ease, the three little shepherd cousins who were the reason that Fatima has become this pilgrimage site.  There they were, life-sized, the two little girls in their peasant skirts and scarf-covered heads, and the boy in his baggy pants and stocking cap, staring back at Mary and me from a poster behind the woman giving us directions. Their gaze was relentless, their faces filled with energy, their bodies alive with spunk and sparkle.  I loved these kids.  And I wanted to know them and the world that they inhabited.  “I want to go to the fields where they saw Mary!” I exclaimed to my friend Mary.  And Mary, transfixed by the kids, too, agreed.  So, that’s what we did.  In the bright afternoon sun on this glorious October day, we flip-flopped in our look-a-like Tevas past the center of Fatima and the sacred courtyard square of churches and out onto the road that would lead us to the little shepherds’ village and the field where Mary had made herself known.

“We have less than two hours!” one of us called out.  “We had better start praying!” one of us added as we walked as fast as we could toward the village.  “How do we do it?” was our call into the brilliant blue sky.  We fumbled; we stumbled; and we found something we both — the lapsed Catholic and the pagan Swedenborgian — could do.  And, on the country road, we did it, we said it, to the best of our ability, the Catholic/Swedenborgian version of the Lord’s Prayer.  And we were moved by our prayer, and we were moved to what came next as we walked along — and I’m not sure which one of us started it, or maybe neither one of us did.  It didn’t matter and it felt inspired, as natural as breathing.  One of us called out a name, clearly into the rose-scented air, adding an appreciation, a prayer for that person, and then the other did the same.  We took turns, during the few kilometers of walking, calling out the names of siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends all the way to the village, to the home of the children and the field that is now an olive grove.

It filled us; that’s what I want to tell you, this conscious act of appreciation.  We felt as fragrant as the roses that lined our path.  In fact, we felt the presence of Rose, Mary’s only sibling who has passed.  We felt her spirit with us, and we felt the children too, the little shepherds who brought us to this place.  And on the way back to Fatima, as we scurried along, we continued our turns, and the circle grew and it grew and it grew.  We prayed for Hillary, our candidate and we prayed for Donald too.  Under that blue blue sky in the presence of the three children and Rose and our parents and our loved ones, no one, not a soul, was left out of our circle.  Before we left northern Michigan, Mary, as she contemplated the pilgrimage, boldly had proclaimed to our women’s group that her intention was to love everyone.  Oh my!!!  What a tall order that is!!!  But I can tell you that under the watchful eye of the three children in Fatima and the tiny village a few kilometers down the country road, it was easy.

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Fatima, Portugal: October, 2016

Clear Vision

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  Wayne Dyer

I’m telling you this for a reason, how Thanksgiving weekend with family in Idaho left me with an after-glow of happiness, how the five days my husband Cam and I spent with our sons, their wives and our two grandchildren was rich and nourishing and funny and fun.  And I’m adding that it’s not about perfection — there was the glass that broke in a daughter-in-law’s hand that led to an emergency room visit on Thanksgiving evening and the moments of tired little kids spinning out of control and the lost toddler boot on a trail around a reservoir; there was all of that — and, yet, there was something magnanimous and sane and loving underlying the whole delicious feast of a weekend.  There was a clarity of ground rules — a working out beforehand of which of the two houses Cam and I would call home on particular nights and the knowing that we, as a family, were going for ease and not an overload of fancy holiday trimmings.  And there was a groundwork of respect, the belief that we all were included in the five-day-party even when the party members were going about their separate activities.  And finally there was the underpinning that held it all up, an attitude — a choice it was — of love among us all.

And there was one evening that especially stands out in my mind, an evening in which I was conscious of an overflow of happiness within and around me, that had me pushing the save button even as I was living it.  We were all present, the eight of us, at one of the two homes, and dinner was over, and the gathering had moved to the living room area and a game of charades was in process, a game that somehow was both working for the four-year-old, who was present and remarkably good at acting out his words, and for the rest of us as well.  And at first, we all seemed to be paying attention to the person center stage, to the guessing game at hand.  Except there was Addie, who is one and a couple of months, and could care less about the purpose of charades.  She was out to find her own good time and ended up behind a couch where we had hidden the crayons and colored pens and pencils and paper until a later moment when one of the adults would be ready to supervise.  And there was the four-year-old Viren who only had so much passion for this guessing game we were playing and ended up behind the couch with his cousin.  And there was me, Grandma Helen, who discovered them both and squeezed her Grandma body into the crack and joined in the unsupervised art fun.  Addie had already colored her cheek and Viren was creating exotic swirls across a sheet of white paper with a bouquet of colored pens when I arrived in the crevice between couch and bookcase, and Addie and I added to this palate of swirls as the game on the other side of the couch continued  — until it didn’t continue anymore because life is in constant motion like the swirls on the paper and there is always something new in the moving forward.

So, when the three of us crawled out from the crevice, things had changed.  One daughter-in-law was making tea.  Another was sprawled out on the couch napping, and Grandpa Cam’s eyes were closed too.  Our sons still seemed to be playing charades or conversing loudly, the two of them deep into a brother game of their own.  Meanwhile, Addie squirmed herself free from my arms and climbed up on the low-to-the-ground coffee table and proceeded to do what she does so well, skitter herself in a move her parents call “fast feet” while shrieking with glee.  And Viren grabbed the Piggie and Gerald book and sat on my lap ready for the story.  That was the moment I pushed the save button, the moment I felt the life of it all, the thrill of the almost-out-of-control creative thrumming that was palpable in the space we all inhabited mingling with a sense of safety underneath, that it was okay to freely be who we were in that moment — perhaps sleepy and needing a nap, or loud and brotherly, or wild and fancy-footed — that the groundwork beneath us was secure, that we were all a part of the party.

I’m telling you this for a reason.  I’m wanting you to know that I’m carrying this memory forward, that the feeling, the thrumming-with-life-yet-somehow-peaceful-and-safe-to-be-who-we-are-in-the-present-moment-feeling is embedded in my cells.  It is with me now — I pushed the save button, the sane button.  And I am intending to let this memory and the feeling it evokes spread out into a wider vision, a vision that I am holding for our country and the world.  Why not?!?  Why not feed a vision that feels good to me, one that I know is possible because I felt it last weekend?!?   Why not envision for our country and our world a party where we all have been given invitations, one where we do our best to lay out some ground rules,   knowing that flexibility is a part of expansion, and that it is okay to be busy or not so busy with our separate games and projects and lofty ideas, and that fun can be an acceptable priority and mutual respect something to strive for?!?   Why not envision a country and a world where you don’t have to be on the same spiritual page to be a part of the universal book of inclusivity?!?  Why not envision with heart and soul and all the clarity a gal like me can muster a country and a world where the love is palpable and the feeling in the air is safe and filled with a goodness, even when the party is tipping almost-out-of-control and someone is dancing on the table?!?

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Thanksgiving Weekend: Moscow, Idaho    November 2016

Rise Up!!!

(This post was written longhand on November 9th and transcribed on November 10th)

It’s the journey that steels us, the stumbling and picking yourself back up, the seeking, that staves off fear and fills us with hope.  Rev. Dr. Karen Tate

I am sitting on the shore of Lake Superior as I have done so many days these past few weeks.  The weather in Upper Michigan has been glorious, sunny and mild, and the rocky shoreline has become my autumn office as I write longhand the stories from my recent walking pilgrimage through northern Portugal to Santiago, Spain.  The writing comes easy as I sprawl out on sandstone, sun-soaked and happy in the present moment and remembering this remarkable three-week journey.  My friend Mary and I entered our European pilgrimage eager and prepared, not only with backpacks stuffed with gear, but with an attitude that this was going to be fun and meaningful and that we would be open to its gifts.  When you enter a path laid out by centuries of pilgrims, a route that traverses glorious landscapes and through picturesque villages, where everything is new and exciting and your days are simply spent walking, it is easy to find yourself in a state of receptivity, a state of mind that attracts expansive high vibration experiences and interactions.

And that is what happened for Mary and I; magical-seeming experiences became our norm.  People from the villages we passed through invited us into their hearts and homes, provided us with clear directions and fresh baked goods, into family gatherings at small restaurants where they sang with a passion I’m not sure I have ever felt before, into outdoor markets and bar/cafes where the water was free for two thirsty pilgrims.  There was a generosity and kindness and a lightness of being in the air that was palpable, from the people and their villages, and also from the air itself and the vegetation and the ocean, the mighty open Atlantic we followed north from Porto, Portugal that first week.  Our days were long and delicious and the sea held a power and mystery that enveloped us.  And during those days spent walking on beach and sand dune and boardwalk, the gulls became our companions, a flock of them, seemingly the same flock, would float above us and in front of us, pointing the way as they sailed along on the sea’s breeze.  And then they would fly back and sail ahead again, sea angels pulling us forward and upward.

And that’s what it was like on this Camino to Santiago; Mary and I were constantly allowing ourselves to be pulled forward and upward into a more expansive, more generous, more ease-filled and loving way of being.  So, sitting on the rocks here in northern Michigan, writing these stories of a pilgrimage that had its high vibe way with me is a pleasure, one that brings me back to those gulls and the sea and the sound of the waves, that brings me back to the kindness and love that was present throughout.  I like hanging out in a vibration of generosity, where possibilities seem endless and the synchronicities and magical moments abound.  I am needing to remember that today, that it is in the state of expansiveness that the solutions and good feelings arise.  You see, I lost this vibration last night, couldn’t feel the light-hearted love of those gulls and that walk.  I was not on the winning side of this presidential election and the defeat not only stung; it stunned me, and on so many levels feels devastating.  That’s what I went to bed with last night, the stun and the sting and the sadness.  And I woke up, and they were still there, those feelings that are murky and heavy and uncomfortable.

And so I decided to stay in bed until something shifted, anything at all.  And as I pulled the covers up tight, I clutched a stone, a wonderful sun-colored smooth stone painted by the nature gods with rings of gray, a stone I had picked up a month ago along those  miles and miles and miles of Atlantic shoreline, a stone that must carry some of the sea’s power because indeed something did start to shift for me.  I started to hear it, a song from the Hamilton soundtrack, the “Rise Up!” song.  I heard it loud and clear and it was like a slight breeze blowing away a bit of the heavy.  And I did rise up, and I did eat breakfast, and I did get out in the woods I love so well, and I started to feel slightly better.  And then I came here to the shore of the lake that feeds my spirit.  And as the sun began to sink, I remembered the gulls and the lightness of being on our pilgrimage and my spirit began to finds its wings again.  I know some things.  I know that I love this country, its diversity of land and people, its democratic ideals.  I know I want for it to be a welcoming place for all, a kind place, a creative place, an expansive place.  And I know I want to embrace these qualities in myself.  So, this turn of events is not what I saw coming and is not what I wanted to transpire.

As our Portuguese/Spanish journey was winding down, in the town of Finisterre, Spain, a village at the end of the world, one where the early explorers set sail for lands unknown, a fellow traveler on the Camino path said to Mary and I, “Your Camino has just begun!”  And so here we are.  Here I am, still on the pilgrim path some weeks later, with choices in my hands.  Do I want to stay stuck in sadness and anger?  Do I want to yell out to the other half of the population whose paradigm appears to be so different than my own, to become what I don’t tolerate well in others?  Or do I want to rise up?  Because when I do rise up, the view is expansive and the opportunity for positive solutions is mighty.  It comes back to that huge gulp and a “darn it!”.  It is up to each of us to find our alignment, to find our way up to the expansive vibration where we feel good, where solutions come to us with the ease of the gulls who found their way to Mary and me.  It is up to each of us to claim it, that we are president of our own lives.  And when we do claim it, when we do rise up and bring ourselves into alignment with what matters most in our hearts and minds and spirits, than we feel it, the power of those mighty waves, the power and mystery of life coursing through us.  And from this place of inner power, we each will know what to do, what feels inspired, and it will be  generated by love and kindness and creativity and we will have the courage of those early explorers who took off for lands unknown with a sense of expansiveness and possibility in their hearts.

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The sunset at Presque Isle: Marquette, Michigan, November 9, 2016

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