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Dear One

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So here I Am. In the Episcopal tradition we have a season of Christmas, a.k.a. The Twelve Days of Christmas, not just one day. This is a super handy understanding when it comes to writing annual holiday letters. For me, addressing cards has become a welcome task beside the fire at the beach cabin. Today rain is pelting on the picture windows to one side of me. And the wind is howling out there. Here inside though, we are cozy and warm. Talk about privilege. We have two houses, each offering a safe change of scenery during the worldwide pandemic.

This time last year, we were planning a trip to Southeast Asia, the last step in Rob’s recovery from major surgery. Clarke was moving in with his girlfriend, Jannet. Carolina was relocating to Capitol Hill to be closer to culinary school. Who knew that we’d go to Palm Springs instead, returning to Corona Central on March 17th…that Clarke would land on the other side of the West Seattle Bridge right before it was declared unsafe and closed to traffic…and that Carolina would live within a couple of blocks of the famed CHOP/CHAZ after George Floyd was murdered? What a year!

As 2020 draws to a close, we are proud of our young people. Employed as teacher and grocer, they are making their way through the chaos. We are fortunate they live nearby during this stretch. Mom lives close too. And even though we haven’t been able to hug each other for way too long, we have created The Anchorhold (our bungalow’s front porch in the Ravenna neighborhood), The Grotto (at Carolina’s) and Backyard (at Clarke and Jannet’s) and now as of last night, The Cave (on the edge of the garage here at the beach), all open and ready for outside visiting at a moment’s notice. We have our ways.

This year I finally and officially and completely retired. The first payment lands in our account today. People ask me what I’m going to do now that I am no longer going to work. The first thing I am not going to do is report to anyone else. Well, I do report to God. And I tell Rob what I’m up to. Like, I intentionally exercised for at least 30 minutes every day in 2020—practiced yoga in two classes per week, cycled an average of 14 miles per week on Her Purpleness, walked a lot, kayaked some or swam laps a few times (but way-too-few for this mermaid) each of the 366 days in this God-forsaken year. I have also read a book a week and am finishing my theology class, “Education for Ministry.” I am almost back to a respectable level of Spanish study—enjoyed a quarter of Casa Latina’s “Somos Vecinos” class as well as weekly morning prayer with my bilingual friend. For me, it’s about trimming those lamps and being ready. Sometimes I still strive and struggle. But mostly I simply love spending a lot of time in the blue room, reading and writing contemplatively.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am that Rob is well. He is wonderful company. This man runs a couple of miles every other day like he has for the 40-plus years I’ve known him. Raises bees. Makes music. Rob is a gentle peacemaker who is leading in his reserved and dry-wit way.

I am also grateful beyond measure for my sisters. We encourage each other in our love for Mom. She is good sweet company even though we haven’t been able to spend nearly enough time with her physically in 2020. Yes, her 92 years have taken their toll. After Dad died, her intent was to move closer to us and then make friends before she became dependent on staff and others. It’s inspiring to realize she’s doing that. Our Bernie reads the newspaper every morning and zooms with us, puzzling and chatting along. She is neighborly to all, where neighborliness is suspect due to contagion-fear.

I know I take my life in my hands when I admit how basically content I am. I do love that we have created ways to safely connect with others even in the cold wet darkness of winter. I scared myself about how lonely I might feel at this point. Instead there is a part of me that recognizes this too as vocation. I treasure the inside monastery-like home we have created along with how we reach out and welcome. I wonder how I can maintain this inner stillness when the CV19-lockdown measures lift.

As vaccinations begin to spread out around us, I am optimistic about the health and goodness they promise. I hope, when this global experience is behind us and even now, we can acknowledge how we are one, all the same Dear One in fact—connected, interdependent and part of the whole. The warm vaccine blanket will tuck us all in eventually regardless of how we each individually choose to respond. We, dear one, will be on to the next blessing and challenge. That’s my take at least.

Happy Christmas and a Hopeful, Healthy New Year to Everyone, Everywhere!

Zoom O’Clock

Before Facebook has a chance to tell you, I will: November is my birth month. It’s a special one too: 65.

I am only the Beatles’ proverbial “When I’m 64” a few more days. Because I’m not quite 65 yet, I could go in-person on All Saints’ Day to Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, USA. I served as the lay reader. I joined the skeleton of others—sound engineer, videographer, presider, preacher, organist and four-part quartet—who have been blessedly creating, with God’s help, our online service each Sunday for almost eight months.

It used to be, before Coronatide, we thought of ourselves according to the Eucharist we attended on Sunday mornings. We were 8 o’clockers, 9 o’clockers and 11 o’clockers. Now we are Zoom O’clockers.

Yes, there is clear serendipity in worshipping together at the time that the service is actually livestreamed. I have experienced it many times in community simultaneously, usually clad in my pajamas.

Some say getting dressed for the day, having the service leaflet printed or available on a screen for reference helps one to focus. I know watching the hymn review provided by our fabulous musicians the Thursday before also helps.

Now, after Election Day, in the liminal space of waiting, I am getting around to posting. Yesterday my old computer was decidedly on the brink. So was I. Now I am looking for ways to soothe myself; I know writing and sharing helps. Plus the little-laptop-that-could is cooperating. Back to my reflections from the beginning of the week, seemingly eons ago.

Regarding the value of virtual church:

I have found the ability to organically watch the service (or even parts of the service—the sermon, for instance) means I never miss it. And since I usually stream from home, worship with others in my community has become my day-to-day reality. If I need to, I can also help my mother tap into FaceTime with her siblings around the country and from coast-to-coast—they gather at 2 PM East Coast Time, precisely the start time of our main livestream. So, I help her, chat with my aunts, uncles and cousins and then come back to the service later. I can even watch a football game, I don’t mind saying, when the Seahawks draw the early start time. And I can recommend the service to others anywhere in the world to watch during their awake time. That said, the archived version is always available even in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.

On the Feast of All Saints, I saw how the oh-so-delicious service sausage is made, starting with the health sign-in questions. Some of the ingredients were obvious beforehand. I knew I would be reading from Revelation, the fanciful prophecy about All Evolving into Spirit. Thanks to our tradition of reading from the lectionary, we read the same passage that is recited in many Christian churches around the globe. I knew it would be paired with the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel. I knew the offertory music would be Aaron Copland’s adaptation of Lowry’s “At the River” because Rob and I had submitted our bass and alto contributions for the virtual choir rendition.

After softening into scripture and listening to an exquisite homily–the priest told us the readings have the same message–I read the intercessory prayers authored by my new friend. I inserted the names of my aunt and my first cousin who are healing from COVID19 as well as many others who are suffering and who have died. I felt then that one can pray quietly to God in public held in the container of a cathedral balanced on glacial till, land borrowed from the Duwamish. I learned I can hold tears on the brink of falling and only choke slightly when reading “By Your grace may they come into Your peace knowing Your welcome, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ ”

Unlike those trying to watch, I hadn’t realized until the service ended that the livestream broadcast had failed. Disappointment hung in the air when we debriefed together in a wide circle held in the nave. I was glad to know we could lean into zoom o’clock in all her glory because, as usual, the service would be uploaded and archived. All was not lost. I learned that some of these musicians, priests and electronic wizards would be attending, recording, livestreaming and uploading five services throughout the day. The schedule was grueling and not unlike what some amongst us do for our high holidays like Advent, Christmas, Holy Week and Easter.

As a result and Thanks be to God, I have a different service to watch every day this week, if I add the ones from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and Misa Guadalupe at St. Luke’s Episcopal in Renton. By then, Election Day will pass and we’ll see what’s next. And soon enough, we’ll be back to Sunday and the next round of zoom o’clock services will start all over again.

Anchorhold

Early during the pandemic, I learned more about unordained Julian of Norwich and her anchorhold. I began to recognize the covered porch that stretches across our bungalow in Ravenna as my anchorhold. On one side of the porch is our quiet and now-closed-to-others, four-walled home. It harbors my blue room and altar, my books and writing utensils, as well as Rob’s grand piano, adequate sound system and our zooming computers.

On the other side of the porch, beyond the front garden that Rob lovingly tends, is the sidewalk. It leads to the park and ravine south of us. Especially early in the lockdown this pathway carried scads of people, a surprising variety of them, some known and some heretofore unknown to us. Often I rock on the porch and visit with the passersby. Or not. Sometimes I hide behind a giant juniper bush and watch. It has been so easy to love the others this way. When conversations develop, they have been rich and full. At some point I began to realize I could offer what might be needed simply by being here, watching and loving. I can be a secure firm hold in a rocky sea from my perch on the porch, encouraging the parents, accepting small gifts from the little ones, laughing, crying along too.

God prepared me for this work from my anchorhold. Last summer when Rob was slowly recovering from surgery, while his prognosis was bleak, we rocked together on the porch and welcomed many friends and family members. They came with their gifts of nourishment and prayers for fond well-being.

This summer, Thank God, Rob is cancer-free, still working on his digestion issues but essentially well—gardening, music-making and bee-keeping. Occasionally he still rocks with me.

Amazingly, during this wild summer, we have finally replaced the front walkway, refurbished the porch, and created a welcome tree and arbor. Today new railings were installed. It’s been a long time coming. Seven years ago, when the piano was being delivered, its leg punched a hole in the old walkway. Since then we have covered the breach with an indoor-outdoor carpet square and let the ant farm below develop. It’s miraculous that this would finally be the summer of full restoration. I am reminded that Rob’s bladder is gone and so is the ant farm we harbored. We have added a hammock I bought in Nicaragua as well as a small solar-powered fountain. We purchased a propane fire circle to use as cold and darkness descends.

It is now time for me to get clearer about what I will be during my retirement. For one like me, it will always be a challenge to resist doing and achieving. My prayer is to embrace my porch anchorhold, the literal one that now has a new and sturdy path connecting me to the world. As I place my hands together in the middle of my chest, I pray that this anchorhold for welcoming and rocking here in my heart will be accessible too. I know this calm center will flourish given intentional steady breath all day long. For this, I am firmly resolved. İOjala!

September, After All

From the very moment I arrived here, I felt a deep full vibrating (yet masked, of course) smile. Happy, gloriously happy to be me, with these two, my jewels.

Being aware of the endless connections. Noticing: Reciprocal Reflections of Light.

How do I describe this joy briefly? Being cared for, held.

This wind, the gusts, the varying hum. And yet, in it I am warm from the inside out. I have many tools, including friends, to help.

It is time to go see the children, to take a few books. No big planning or obligations. I am enough. We will love each other and encourage the parents.

It is September, after all.

Bridging with Birdsong

Chirps

In the City

When it became spring again, we began sleeping with our windows flung open with abandon to the fresh air. Alongside a mile-long ravine smack in the city, sometimes I woke up in the dead of night and heard an owl hoot. Or I’d wake a few hours later but still very early around 430 when the first birds were starting to warm up. Or maybe my first peek would be 30 or 45 minutes later when the cacophony had become orchestral. At some point in those earlier days of Covidtide, I decided that God was talking with me. If I stayed right on the edge of consciousness, trying to remember my dreams and not frustrating myself with the early hour, I could start—just barely—to make sense of things.

Then later in the morning perched on our covered porch in front—my anchorhold—cradling a mug of steaming coffee and curled under a down blanket, I could almost close my eyes to slits and begin to hear the tiny descant-like voices of the preschoolers who live near us. They are not always content, of course, but especially early in the day, they utter kind things to each other and their mother calls them, “My love.” Quietly and secretly, I begin to fold the syllables of their dialogue in amongst the birdsong. I pick up the soundwaves of God’s avian cantatas with human peeps and twitters folded in.

I delight when my neighbor across the street opens his home-office windows and I catch a syllable or two of French as he zooms with his business-mates through the airwaves across the sea. The pulses rise to operatic when Spanish syllables of the nearby workers join in along with the barking dogs and the tinkling sounds of our garden fountain. What could be better?

How about the magic at dusk when most of the birds have gone to rest? Then I marvel when I hear Rob call the young owls and they land on the telephone wires outside our open bedroom window. He has learned to exchange long whistles and draw them close to us.

 

At the Shore

Today we are at the beach house. I am perched among my feathered friends because the best living spaces for humans are on the second floor; our deck reaches out into the scrubby trees around us. I can see five feeders from here—two are flat; one’s a suet cage; there’s a small red-roofed swinging contraption and a sugar hummingbird feeder. The chirps and caws have settled a bit because it’s after noon now. The related sounds I notice are the flutters as the finches and ruby-throated hummers whir around me. Their tiny claws click as they grab the wire mesh. Cracks of seed come from their beaks. The little person across the canal from us adds her before-naptime complaints to the symphony. The progress of construction projects, drilling and hammering, punctuates the air.

This morning I was the first human being up and was situated under a celestial blue sky. Writing, listening, praying, and glancing up occasionally at sunshine glistening on the water nearby. Just in time to identify the white-tailed deer when I heard her prancing through the yard below me. Usually our good and quiet friends are the only people nearby when we’re here. This time though a jolly troop of mostly young adults is camping in the vacant lot between us. As they began to rise and stagger out of their tents and an abrasive-sounding motorcycle revved up, I wasted about 60 seconds lamenting and wondering, “Where has the peace-and-quiet gone?”

Then I shifted. After all, these snippets too are sounds of life—the giggles, greetings, commentary of relaxation and contentment, bacon sizzling. Around 11 o’clock, a reassuring “Daylight in the camp!” rang forth from the patriarch/new owner we are getting to know. This mixed in with grunts from the slugabeds and guffaws in response.

Again, it occurred to me. Amidst the steady birdsong, God was speaking with me. All these sounds could be encouraging. I realized this is all evidence of connection. Clearly also worthy of enjoyment, curiosity. I can be peaceful in this fun marching-band-like hoorah too. The air we share is packed with a variety of sound waves, gentle and loud too.

That’s when a little chickadee chirped close to me. I looked up to see a smaller and more-fluffy-than-usual, black-capped fledgling. About three feet from my face. The challenge was not to move and still remember the next stroke of my pen. Maybe he’d hop across those three feet to glance at the story I was writing. Or maybe not. Regardless more evidence, confirmation of the web.

We are one in song, be it percussion, melody, voice. We create an exquisite ballad sometimes accompanied, like today, by the wind chimes over there. Even more distantly, the rhythmic hum of giant waves. With certainty, the Pacific Ocean purrs underneath the other music as she rocks and cradles us all.