Lost At Sea

Last week in Seattle, I had one of those recurring experiences that can happen when you remove yourself from your every day surroundings and begin to immerse yourself in ways of life uncommon to you. One afternoon we walked along the harbor and looked at the large fishing boats and yachts that make their way from the waters of Puget Sound out to the ocean. Many of these vessels were luxurious and beautiful with exotic names. We wondered about what we would name such a boat if we were ever to have one. Others were definitely working boats…paint was well worn, nets were scattered on the deck and nearby dock, coolers and lobster traps littered the area around them. 

In addition to the boats, people….mostly men…walked about in tall, rubber boots and what looked like overall waders worthy of their wet work. The clothes they needed to do their daily tasks was so far from anything I need that I had to laugh. Many of their faces showed the leathery skin of those who have spent much time in the sun and salt air. Lined skin relayed the hard work of the sea and being married to the lure of those waters.

Being a Midwesterner all my life, with only smaller lakes and rivers as the water that calls to me, these boats and this way of life is not familiar and is something I may want to romanticize. Many of the sites that caught my eye that afternoon belied the difficult and dangerous work that these who provide fish for dinner tables across the country face every day. A difficulty and danger that I have never considered. 

That is until I stood at the monument to ‘Those Lost at Sea” and began to read the names etched on bricks that lay beneath my feet. It was in a sense a memorial for the sailors who had given their lives…..some recovered from the sea and others not……so that we may enjoy the sweetness of salmon and the flakiness of cod deep fried on a Friday night. I marveled at the number of them, some who perished decades ago and others who were lost only last year. Like many places honoring the lives of loved ones, some of the bricks had flowers laid nearby. Others displayed little trinkets now faded by the sun. I watched as one man read each brick one by one making his way from the lost to the lost. It was as if he was paying homage to each soul now departed.

The truth is I do not have experience with the concept of being lost at sea. It is not something I have ever thought much about. But I do have a memory of a knitter friend who told of how women from the Celtic lands would knit particular patterns in the sweaters their fishermen wore, patterns that allowed them to be identified by the swirl and knots of yarn if they were lost at sea. I have never looked at an Irish sweater the same since.

It is unlikely that I or any of my nearest kin will ever be lost while sailing a boat on large waters. But we, all of us, will be lost from time to time. It is a condition of being human. We lose our way at some point of each and every day. We forget to notice the beauty around us or are distracted by the minute details that draw us from the path we hoped to travel. Sometimes we get lost trying to make our way toward a cherished dream or as we traverse a relationship. Other times we get lost trying to do the right thing or trying not to give into what we believe to be the wrong thing. Getting lost and being found is a part of the dance of life.

When I was in high school I sang in a choir that did a medley of the anthems of our US armed services. My favorite of the group was the Navy hymn. I loved how the bass part rolled like the waves of the sea: 

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea! 

For all those who are in peril on the sea this day, prayers of protection. For all those in danger of being lost at sea, prayers of rescue. For all of us who may be wandering in some state of lost, prayers of finding solid ground, prayers of finding home.

  

Hoarding

These are dark days. Even though the Summer Solstice greeted us with enormous light over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel the overshadowing weight of what happened in South Carolina blocking that light. Even the brilliant sun throwing its entrance to summer party was lessened by another reminder of the terror humans can visit upon one another. The groaning of Creation and Creator cut straight through the warm and yellow rays of a brilliantly beautiful day. Our collective hearts are broken and at the same time numbed by the horror of events like this that seem to be happening over and over again with no end in site, no wisdom gained, no change made.
At some point of the last days I realized what I wanted to do was hoard…..that’s right…..hoard. I wanted to begin hoarding all the kindness, gentleness, beauty and hope I could fit into the cracks and crevices of the brokenness. I wanted to pile high the lovely words that have been spoken, will be spoken, in a lifetime. I wanted to spend time looking at the tiniest of creatures and marveling once again at their being, their impossible being. I wanted to spend time listening to a young child’s laughter, the kind that makes it impossible to not also laugh and hear the way children break into song at the drop of a hat. I wanted to join in that song until voices become raw with the joy of the music. I wanted to sit still and be present to the gift of the present moment and to know myself blessed beyond believing.I wanted to hoard all of this….in closets and drawers, in hallways and garages, in the deep recesses of my heart.

Flying out to Seattle on Friday morning, I noticed a young man’s t-shirt as he made his way through the aisle of the plane. It was a brand new shirt, gray with bright blue letters: ‘Team William’ it read in large letters across his slender chest. Below it the signature hash tag mode of communication of these days:#BillGetWell. I wondered who Bill was and who this young was in relationship to him. Father? Uncle? Teacher? Coach? Friend? Was he coming to Seattle to do some kind of benefit for Bill, something to help with the financial implications of his unknown illness? I reflected on this young man’s desire to be a part of William’s ‘team’ and all the care and concern, the commitment to another’s life it communicated. 

In the shadows that prevailed, I held this young man’s movement as a sign of what is right with the world. The truth is that there are more people like this young man making their way through their lives than the one we now know caused so much pain in a small, historic church in Charleston. There are more people choosing to stand side by side with those in pain, illness, despair, hopelessness than there are those who are bent on destruction. I found a special place for all those who are signing on to be on someone’s Team today to the hoarding I am doing.

It would be easy to say that this hoarding I crave is a way of avoiding the issues, of putting my head in the proverbial sand. Perhaps, that is partially true. But I believe this act piling and holding onto things is doing something else. It is allowing the building blocks of hope to have a more solid ground and from that hope change is born. It is ground that is a reminder of our goodness as humanity, of our being made in the Image. A ground that is stronger in love and compassion than it is in hate and indifference. It is a grounding that is a reminder of the invisible lines of connection that hold us all together and, in the end I believe, will not let us go and will propel us to face up to the racism and injustice that runs through our veins and through the tributaries on our nation.

These lines can make us weep with despair and also rejoice with elation. They can take our breath away with beauty and also with terror. They are lines that pull us toward facing the work that must be done before we can become the beloved community we are called to be. Some see this more clearly than others which is one more reason to hold on through it all and to continue to hoard what will become the reminders of our goodness, of our strength and of our power. We need all the best of each other more than ever at times like this.

And so I am hoarding all the good bits……

  

The Act of Noticing

Do you remember Monday? This past Monday, I mean. It was such a nearly perfect day that I am still trying to conjure its presence. Waking early, I walked through our neighborhood allowing the morning creatures,those who also rise early, to serenade me. Birds whose songs I enjoy but cannot name created a soundtrack for my morning walk. Everywhere I looked color was bursting forth into the world. Dew lingered on hosta leaves looking like tiny lakes for fairies that must live just beneath these enormous, green umbrellas. People and their dogs were out…..animals with noses in the air experiencing something my human abilities could not fathom. Runners moved along morning routes taking it all in or, sadly, plugged into something that was keeping them from the morning concert. At least one young child, still in pajamas with bed-head hair hopped around outside, the memory of last night’s fun still present in his summer mind.

My drive on Monday took me along my leisurely path, the one I use when the day requires more meditation than speed. Most other people refer to it as the East River Road. Monday it was flooded with bikers. Coexisting with them as I was required to do made me think of the skill needed to drive in Amsterdam where bikers zip and fly, ruling the road over cars and walkers. It took all my energy to be present to them as my eyes were drawn to the day’s beauty unfolding, offering itself to me. Pay attention! Lives are at stake!

Making my final turn before merging onto the frontage road that would take me onto the short distance of freeway left before arriving at the office, I saw the one person who had truly dressed for the day in an appropriate manner. In the crosswalk as I waited for the light to turn, a tall, stately Somali woman sauntered leisurely across the street. Her long, flowing dress was of a deep, rich green with swirling, colorful paisley patterns just at the hem and moving up one side. Over her head was a long, kelly green cloth outlined with green sequins. My face opened up in an enormous smile. She looked like the Queen of this perfect morning. I looked down at my drab, understated clothes. This woman had dressed for the day. I wore a uniform.

All these experiences reminded me of something I had heard while listening to the radio on Sunday morning. I heard a person being interviewed say “There are things you don’t see when you are sleepwalking through your daily life.” It is true, isn’t it? Most of the time I am a sleepwalker. Are you? Quite often I can move through whole swathes of a day and not remember having been in those minutes, hours, experiences. 

And then there are days that will not allow this kind of behavior. Days that seem to work overtime to get our attention. Monday was one of them. I remember thinking that it was a shame I couldn’t simply give myself to that day, that I couldn’t just continue the work of noticing and never make my way into the office. I was fairly certain the young child in its pajamas I had seen earlier would do the work of noticing all day which is, after all, the work of children. I was also sure that the dogs would spend the day following their noses, breathing in the full, rich odors of an early summer day. And the woman in green? Her clothes would allow her to be a part of the celebration moving through the masterpiece the Earth was creating with each passing moment. There was a sadness of responsibility and loss that washed over me that I could not join their company.

Perhaps it is not possible to live a whole day doing the work of noticing. But it is possible to at least give attention to some moments or parts of the day, to wake up from our sleepwalking with an attention to the things we do not want to miss in these precious, fleeting days of summer. Can you do it? Can you choose a few moments to notice? It is risky business. This act of noticing might send you outside in your pajamas……or with your nose held high in the air breathing in the goodness. Or better yet, it might even find you dressing up to walk regally through Creation claiming your place as Queen or King of the day. 

Perhaps it is a good day for each of us to wipe the sleep from our eyes and begin noticing.

  
 

I Was Here

As humans, one of our great desires is to know that our living has made a difference, that somehow others will notice that we are here….have been here. This takes many forms. Some are heroic and prophetic. Others are gentle and understated. The chronicle of this happens as we consider our legacy or even write a resume. “Here are the ways I have shown up in the world.”, we say with each black slash on the white page, with each word that is spoken. As we live out our days which is after all the living of our lives, we cut away at the stone that will remind those who come after that we were here, that our lives mattered. It is actually a Beyoncé song that seems to speak to this……I wanna leave my footprints on the sands of time…..Know there was something that, meant something that I left behind……When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets……Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget…..I was here…..I lived, I loved……I was here.

It is something I was reminded of on a walk around Lake Como last week. Taking in the emerging spring on one of the few days without rain, my husband and I made our way around this sweet lake. People were out on the lake in paddleboats begging summer to arrive. Others walked dogs whose noses pointed heavenward as they took in all the fresh smells that had not long ago been buried beneath ice and snow. We observed ducks with young ones lined up behind the parent, learning how to maneuver the lake’s waters while on logs nearby turtles lined up to sun themselves. Honeysuckle sent sweet scents into the air and water irises bloomed on the banks. People were fishing and stood poised in hope. We followed a monarch…..yes!….from leaf to leaf as we tried to snap a photo of its early and longed for presence. It was a pure experience of pastoral beauty.

As we made a turn in the path and headed toward our car, I noticed a large stone. On the stone was a 21st century ‘cave’ drawing completed with gravel that had been found nearby. It was an image of a little girl created by placing stones into a form that delivered the sweet innocence of a child. I stopped in my tracks and took the time to notice it realizing that to notice the creation was also to honor the one who had created it. The image said….”I was here….I am alive….I was here.” 

It was not an expensive or fancy monument to a life but it was a monument none the less. I thought of all the times in the scriptures when stones were stacked to create an altar or at least a reminder that someone ‘was here’ and that the Holy had moved in that life. I also thought of the ways the Celts and other indigenous cultures stack stones to mark an important moment. All are ways for the human to say “I was here” and to remember that we are forever seen and known by the One who breathed us all into being. 

Many times we can feel invisible. Is anyone noticing that we are here? The greatest gift we can give another person is our presence to their living. It is what we all long for even when we cannot name it. How do you long to be noticed? How can you offer the gift of being present to another this day?

Each day we lay another stone that says we were here. May this day and every day be blessed with noticing. 

  

A Certain Order

There is a certain order to most things. That is, until there isn’t. I got to experience this first hand last week while staying at a hotel while attending a conference. It is a hotel I stay in nearly every year so I have a certain order, a particular rhythm to my arrival, my waking and sleeping, my departure. However, this year many of the things I had come to expect and count on were upended. Upon arrival I was thrown into the renovation of the hotel lobby as it changes from one owner to another. Walking into the space that had always been sleek and orderly, I was confronted head on with boxes piled high, floors that were ripped up and in the process of being tiled, chairs and sofas wrapped in plastic and stacked like doll house furniture. It was immediately unnerving as a feeling of having walked into the set of a DIY show washed over me.

At first I wondered about the noise. What time did the workers arrive…..as a saw that cut tile blared in my ears? Is the health club open? No. Will there be breakfast? Yes, but in a different room….one you get to through the torn up hallway and up the ramp. But I was soon to learn that the noise would be the least of my concerns. Over hearing that a wedding was happening in just two days and the space had to be ready, I began to notice how the tilers were still working at 10:00 o’clock at night and may literally have worked throughout the night for all I knew. I winced as we traipsed across the tiles, newly laid, not yet grouted. “Aren’t they supposed to ‘rest’ awhile before people can walk on them?” Someplace this cautionary voice from some long ago home project rang out in my head.

Coming down in the early morning, and I do mean early, the workers were already there, painting, hanging wallpaper, tiling, grouting….all simultaneously. Standing in the wings, others waited and as soon as one of these tasks was nearly completed, they swooped in to hang drapes while the wallpaper was still being smoothed. (My mother would have been horrified.)A few feet away surrounded by boxes both empty and still full, another worker was wiring up the large screen television setting the channel to a pastoral landscape that seemed so incongruous to what was going on all around. Scrape, swoosh, slap, bang. The sounds of frantic remodeling and decorating continued. 

As I walked into the lobby and climbed over yellow ‘caution’ tape,I noticed one nook of the lobby had been filled with furniture and there were now books on the shelves. Only a few feet away workers knelt still laying flooring and others stood on scaffolding, painting and hanging wallpaper near the ceiling. “What if the paint drops”, I thought, “or the wallpaper comes crashing down on the unprotected new furniture?” 

Each trip through the lobby raised my anxiety level. Upstairs, hotel staff were working away preparing the room where the wedding reception would happen. White lights twinkled in the doorways and across the ceiling. Tablecloths were being spread on tables while the dance floor was being prepared. Downstairs was pandemonium and upstairs everything was slowly unfolding.

Since I have returned from this experience, I have thought back so many times about what it all triggered in me. I recognized that it was not the clutter or even the work that seemed impossible to complete in a timely way that got to me. It was that the process they were employing seemed so out of an order I understood. Floors, painting, wallpapering,then furniture, artwork, drapes. That’s an order I get. But who said it had to be that way?

My sense is that the couple who was married and had their reception at this hotel won’t have a clue as to what took place the days before they arrived in celebration. It won’t matter a lick that the drapes were hung before the floor was finished and that the television was set to go before the furniture was in place. In the end, it all worked out which is all that really matters. 

There is a certain order to things……until there isn’t.