Knowing Joy, Knowing Woe

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The tag line for my blog could also be my life’s theme:

Solid joys, deep sorrows, aggressive hope.

Last year a persistent, present grief pressed down my heart. I knew, though, that I couldn’t abandon joy. Grief would need to make room for a roommate: joy was moving in. They would have to cohabit.

I remembered that metaphor as I read this line from an early C.S. Lewis poem:

Be as the Living ones that know
Enormous joy, enormous woe.

The poems are in Spirits in Bondage, a collection of 40 poems written by Lewis between the ages of 16 and 19.

 

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50 Years

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I woke up this morning to my brother’s Facebook update.

Psalm 62:8 (AV): Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.      My father read this to our family 50 years ago after the totally unexpected death of my mother, Nellie. Perhaps the most important event in our family’s history.
I still miss her.

In January, Dan and I talked about 2018 being the fiftieth year.  FIFTY. years.

Somewhere (WHY didn’t I copy it down?) recently I read about a man in his nineties who still mourned his mother’s death who died when he was a young boy. I spoke aloud, “I get that.”

No one has ever told me “Get over it”  but no doubt some have thought it. Oh, my friends. Bereavement has no expiration date.

Grief is a daily companion. A few calendar days make it acceptable to press the un-mute button, to give voice to the grief.

My friend Curtis said yesterday, “I was raised in the soil of sorrow.”

Some want an easy cure, a quick fix; some hate feeling uncomfortable; witnessing affliction is awkward. So they rush the mourning process and roll their eyes to silence the sobs.  They avoid minor keys. They cover pain with inane words.

It’s a delicate dance.
Acknowledging the lament without permanently lodging in it.
Expressing my hope without repressing my grief.
Growing in gratitude while voicing my groans.

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Ecclesiastes grows more precious (well, more understandable) to me every year.
A season for everything. A time to mourn.
A time to be born, a time to die.

So this is today’s 50th anniversary plan.  I will honor Nellie Harper’s memory by imitating her. I will plant my garden and make a meal to take to some friends who just moved.

I often listen to audio books or podcasts while I do chores. While they enrich me, I can use them as a narcotic. Today I will listen to the neighborhood collared doves, rustling leaves, and barking dogs. I will soak up memories of mom. I will hum her favorite hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, while I push seeds into the ground.

I will have a one-sided conversation with her, describing her ‘grands’ and her ‘greats’. I will say how I finally like coffee after all these years. I will review new and old mercies. I will remember her smile, her chuckle, her sighs. I will wonder if she ever ever guessed how much she impacted her world.

I will pray. I will sing. I will plant. I will weep.

To Serve Music

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Q. What is it that drives you at this point?

A. The experience of making music — really, the joy of making music is what I was put here for, I believe.

And I kind of knew — I knew right away once I’d started to kind of get it right, in my teens — once I’d started to experience the joy of getting a result from practice — that this was my destiny, I suppose.

And I always thank God [I] intuitively knew that music was the most important part of it. It wasn’t what I could get from music, it was what I could give to it.

When you asked me the question ‘What is it like?’ — well, I wish people could experience what it’s like to be really focused on doing something musical and have it work and be in tune and harmony.  And that can only come, I believe, if I am serving music, rather than trying to manipulate it to my ends, you know.

Eric Clapton
August 14, 2004
Transcribed from the DVD “Sessions for Robert J”

The Gift of Deep Friendship

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I’m back from the fourth reunion of childhood girlfriends since 2010. We were born in the same year; three resided in the same neighborhood; our parents were friends; we were raised in the same faith; we know each other’s siblings. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

Along with all these similarities are differences. Geographic, to be sure. The closest link between any two of us is over 800 miles. We differ in economics, vocations, passions, politics, tastes, theology, and in all the other ways people change.

The thing is that we six were not bff’s growing up. I think the phrase friendship by proximity describes some of our early years. Sometimes we hung out together because that’s who was available. Now that our friendship has come of age, we are repeating stories! (We = me, sigh…)

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This treasure, these friendships, are more precious to us than diamonds. Other than checking our phones and taking calls from husbands and children, our time is unplugged. We don’t watch movies; we don’t go shopping (except for groceries). It is time to attend, to be present, to listen, to share, to truly know each other. We laugh and guffaw, we cry (even the non-criers among us), we eat, we swim, we sing.

We established a protocol at our first reunion that we always follow. We could (and do) have a fabulous time cooking communally, grabbing a cuppa, letting the conversation meander like a river. But eventually we have a formal time of focus. One friend shares her heart: what’s good, what’s hard, what’s changed, what’s real. This is a time of transparency and trust. We take notes, ask questions. It can also be a time of discovery, when the perception of girlfriends translates truth we didn’t before see. Then we pray, asking God to help, to intervene, to strengthen, to bless our friend. Then we sing the songs we grew up singing that are imprinted on our souls. Rinse and repeat.

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These friendships are for each of us a bonus. We all have sisters — not just sisters, but close sisters with whom we regularly share our lives and hearts.

Two stories. Meeting in the airport has always been an exciting moment. We’re giddy and goofy and garrulous. This year, however, Ruth’s father died the Monday before our gathering. She drove to Virginia on Tuesday, buried him on Thursday, and flew out to Phoenix on Saturday. My plane arrived five minutes before hers. I parked myself in front of the gate to welcome her. Sitting at the back of the plane, she was one of the last passengers to deplane. Seeing each other we burst into sobs, running into a hug. It was a spectacle, but we didn’t care. All our griefs to share.

Eileen’s plane came in later than the others. Nancy’s sister Kathy picked her up from the airport. Eileen didn’t want to inconvenience her. Are you kidding? Kathy replied. When we were first married, we flew to Chicago, but couldn’t rent a car because I was under 25. We called my mom in Phoenix and asked her what to do. She told us to call your (Eileen’s) dad. We called him, he dropped everything and drove to O’Hare to pay for our rental. I am only too happy to give you a ride. More tears, and the gift of an previously unknown story about her dad.

One evening the Gibson sisters joined us for an old-fashioned hymn sing. I guess reading the lyrics on your phone wasn’t old-fashioned! Those girls (ahem, women) can SING!! Lots of nostalgia and gorgeous harmonies and rejoicing in a heritage of music.

After four girlfriend gatherings, I remain astonished at the profound transforming power of this deep friendship. It has all the hallmarks of grace: unexpected, unearned, unsought, undeserved.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

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Anticipating 2010 Reunion

10 Christopher Kimball Quotes

One time my brother gave me ten years of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines. Reading through them was like reliving Dan’s culinary phases. Oh, yeah, remember when he was making sausage?  There’s the artisan bread recipe! Here’s where he learned to make risotto! Adding nutmeg to stroganoff might not have been an original idea…

I used to think my brother was a genius. (Ha ha, bro!) Then I realized he was merely an amazing reader who followed fantastic recipes.

The first thing I did with the magazines was cut out the Flemish-ish art and frame it.

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Because I admire Christopher Kimball’s voice, I recently read through ten years of essays to assay his writing. I immersed myself in them in one week. A very few were ‘meh;’ most had a phrase or thought I copied into my journal.

His overarching theme is one of my own soap boxes, the importance of families eating together, a concept he encapsulates in the word familiar. Here are ten quotes I gleaned.

  1. We lost traditions that had connected us, and in which food played an important role: the social vitality of a meal, for example, as an occasion for families to talk, argue, persuade, or even shout.
  2. On many days, there is more sense to be found in a good recipe for roast chicken than in all the news on the front page of the New York Times.
  3. Today, a whole generation has grown up as a take-out culture. The food is convenient, and some of it is even good, but it has none of the ring of the familiar; it can never be personal enough to become part of our past.
  4. Dinner slows the clock, allowing us a moment to catch our breath, to savor the stillness of the moment; the first taste of a family recipe connecting us instantly to each other, to our past and future.
  5. So many of us today avoid cooking because it is difficult and time-consuming, requiring skill and planning. But it is the blessing of common labor — transforming simple beginnings into rich harvests — that is the great joy of cooking and of any life well lived.
  6. I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party. Cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn’t anything glamorous about it.
  7. Over a lifetime, hands become invested with knowledge, if we allow it. The surgeon, the farmer, the gardener, the artist, and the mother all accrue a lifetime of skill in their hands.
  8. Cooks are architects, building a present that is worth remembering, investing time and energy in simple tasks that grow in importance as time passes.
  9. It’s a shame that at the beginning of this new century, the world is watching America and America is watching television.
  10. Cooking isn’t creative, and it isn’t easy. It’s serious, and it’s hard to do well, just as everything worth doing is damn hard.

After I read the last essay, I read a few articles about Christopher Kimball, the man. I was saddened by his divorce, and laughed out loud at this sentence by Alex Halberstadt: “His real difficulty as an evangelist, however, is the one afflicting most multimillionaires who expound publicly on the virtues of simple living.”

As it happens, Kimball has left Cook’s Illustrated to begin a new magazine called Milk Street. Clever name, I thought, wrongly guessing it was an idiom like in tall cotton. Turns out it’s the street where Kimball’s offices are located.

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Last night I started a biography of Benjamin Franklin that a friend wants me to read. When I read that Benjamin was born in a house on Milk Street in Boston, I just laughed. Once again, my reading life has synchronicity, serendipity and sweetness.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

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Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — in which Crawford bemoans the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — insistently interrupted my reading to read aloud a paragraph. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband Curt (see photo below) can wield an ax, weld an axle and read Wendell Berry.)

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Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.

 

 

 

Cleaning before Being Cleaned

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There’s something radically new in my life: a young woman comes every other week to clean my house. It’s pretty weird. But I’m getting used to it.

I was telling my husband about a book I was reading,  The End of Your Life Book Club — the story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will, and the books they read and discussed during her final two years. As I explained their background, I said, Well, they lived three doors down from Julia Child. And Mary Anne worked full-time, back when moms typically didn’t work. But she must have hired a housekeeper because all they did was read on the weekends and you KNOW that someone had to clean toilets.  And Curt, bless his heart, leapt into this opening he had been waiting for to suggest that we hire a house cleaner.

So Jamie comes and I gather scattered books so she is cleaning and not picking up. I work on a deep-cleaning project while she’s here. To me, it’s akin to paying a piano teacher when you mostly need accountability to practice.

But, here’s the thing: the instinct is so strong to clean up myself before I get help. It’s neat to clean (Next to Godliness is my favorite soap from Trader Joe’s) but this is more about self-protection and perhaps some self-deception. I see this tendency in my life in other areas. After I lose 15 pounds, I’ll go to the doctor, I promise myself.

Years ago, I participated in a foot-washing ceremony. A group of women circled their chairs and the friend on the right got on her knees and dipped my feet in a large bowl sudsy with warm soapy water, washed, rubbed, and dried my dirty, stinky feet — a profoundly unforgettable encounter. It struck the same emotional response in each of us. We were happy (happy! happy!) to wash a friend’s feet, but our heart screamed No! when it was our turn to be washed.