Jeanne Hewell-Chambers

& her barefoot heart

Tag: ruminations (page 1 of 10)

a doorway

Iris2

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Zora Neale Hurston

At long last, I’m reconciling with prayer. For so long, I’ve avoided thinking about it altogether, avoiding it like the plague, actually. Probably has something to do with the missionary telling the young teenage me about the man who came into her storefront church and how when she called on him to lead the prayer, he stood up and with his eyes kept open, spread his arms wide and said something like “Hey God, it’s me, James” then just started having a conversation. Having grown up in the world of men (and only select, special men, mind you) leading us in prayer “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” this story was a breath of fresh air. The missionary, however, was absolutely appalled and said she cut him off mid-prayer and asked him to leave. Banished.

Now, Sugar, you need to know that I love being a Southerner, but as a woman living in the proverbial Bible Belt, it’s dangerous to use words like “prayer” lest they confirm the stereotype (that in my case, is not true) and get the dreaded label attached to your forehead. It’s something that’s hard to wash off.

So yes, prayer and I became estranged a long, long time ago. But then one day recently, I sent a letter to prayer by way of my journal and asked Couldn’t walking be a prayer? Yes, came the answer. And Do we have to call on men to lead us in prayer? First there was a chuckle, then a sigh, and finally a No, absolutely not. Anybody can pray, anybody at all.

After a while, my intense dislike of prayer began to wane, and I came to decide that among other things, prayer is a way to give the brain a vacation . . . or at least a day off. Seems to me that prayer is paying such close attention to Small Things that you can’t help but feel Something Big.

We’re not completely There yet, prayer and I, but we’re working on it.


PRAYER IN MY BOOT

For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field
attached to nothing
pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window
as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling
with crisp colored alphabets
happy cat posters
the cage of the guinea pig
the dog with division flying out of his tail
and the classrooms of our cousins
on the other side of the earth
how solemn they are
how gray or green or plain
how there is nothing dangling
nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery
no self-portraits or visions of cupids
and in these rooms the students raise their hands
and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order
and family businesses that failed
and the house with the boarded windows
and the gap in the middle of a sentence
and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given
and every future rough edge
and every afternoon
turning over in its sleep

says Naomi Shihab Nye

Amen
says me.

Brother Sun’s Playground

Rainbowsonthefloor

Rainbowsonthefloor2

Rainbowintheroom6

At a certain time of day
if the sun is shining and
you’re standing in
just the right place,
rainbows come out to play.

You or anybody else,
for that matter,
can stop the light and
vanish the rainbows,
if you’re not paying attention
to where you stand,
if you get in the way.

Seems a simple
yet significant
thing to know.

Rainbowintheroom4

Rainbowintheroom5

First You Decide, Then You Move

Pathbefore

Weeds are pesky things. Maybe once upon a year you liked them, actually spent money acquiring them then spent time planting and tending them. But comes a day when you realize they are more invasive than pleasing, that they have spread and are now growing and blooming where you don’t want them to grow and bloom. They are taking up too much space on your path.

That’s when it’s time to pluck them out . . .

Borders had been installed at the very beginning, but the weeds had long ago ignored the boundaries, going over and under as they pleased, determinedly oblivious to my growing discontent, so yesterday was weed-pulling day. Many were not happy to leave. Their roots had spread deep and wide over time, taking strong hold to that part of my path. They were apparently quite comfortable and vehemently protested the change. Tools were required to assist in the removal of the most obstinate weeds, and quite often when the weed did finally let go, it came out with great clumps of dirt that went into my shoes, my shirt, my eyes, my hair. It was not a pretty sight.

It was tough, time-consuming work. Fingernails were blackened and broken. Before long, my back hurt and neck and legs ached so badly, I considered throwing in the towel and going to find something to do that was more fun and less arduous, just leaving them be. After all, I could still technically step around them.

Otto2

Otto, my granddog, provided company and stood as witness – sometimes enjoying the sun,

Ottostands2

sometimes standing right where I needed him not to stand,

Ottodigs2

sometimes doing a little digging himself. There was an important difference, though: Otto simply moved what he pulled up, burying it in a new spot in the yard.

Compost

What I pulled up went into the compost bin to be recycled into something new and useful and nourishing. I suppose you could say that it will eventually go into another spot in the yard, too, but you get my drift.

Cleared

Yeah, I’ve had days that were more fun, but by bedtime, the path was cleared, and I could once again see the stepping stones and imagine where they might lead me. You know what I mean?

i’ve never liked numbers all that much, but this one seems rather important

GrandTurks

i’m hardly ever sick, so i have no established relationship with any physician. this morning i find myself in need of antibiotics, so i go to the doc-in-a-box at a nearby drugstore. the soft tissue of my ear is inflamed, you see, infected. it happens every three or four years, i tell her. i just need some antibiotics and i’ll be fine.

i do not tell her how i fretted as i dressed this morning, washing my hands an extra two times, downing a glass of a supposed immune system booster, packing my purse with tissues, one of which i use to protect my hand from the pen i must use when signing in because i do not know who held it before me, what germs linger looking for a warm host with a vacancy sign. i worry more these days. what if i get sick and don’t bounce back as quickly? what if i don’t bounce back at all? what if i come in to be treated for one thing and leave with something entirely unrelated that does me in?

she listens to me, believes me, says she likes a woman who knows her body. unused to eye contact from a physician let alone such a notion as listening to the patient, i am instantly smitten with her. the computer doesn’t allow for this particular diagnosis. it’s unusual. not standard. she calls to obtain an override, and when she tells the physician on the other end of the phone my age, she says the numbers in the same tone she answers every other question asked of her. there’s no drama when she says my age, no shriek, no hushed embarrassed tone.

my daughter calls while i’m luxuriating in an infrequent middle-of-the-afternoon-i’m-sick-so-i-can-if-i-want-to nap. will she call her brother to warn him? will she and her brother be worried? surely they must wish for it on occasion, but do they ever wonder what it will be like to live without having me around? do they think of me as old and fear “losing me”? i am not so noble a person or good a mother as to not hope that these scenarios play out occasionally. i want to be missed.

i make a point to keep my hands away from my face. after reading the various flu posts on facebook, i wash my hands.

i have a milestone birthday this year, you see. on the one hand i look forward to it as a crown i may now wear, an outward symbol of what – power? freedom? space? behavioral entitlement? on the other hand, i am embarrassed by it.

[ ::: ]

my word for 2013 is “homage”. i didn’t invite it – i never do – it just appeared, hopping up on my shoulder where it remains to this day. it’s an unusual word that initially causes me more worry; it’s a word i now bump into rather frequently. the stanford university band spelled it out at some halftime show, for example, and i heard it in first episode of season three of downtown abbey the other night. just the other day i overheard someone of some import use “homage” in the course of a conversation, and she pronounced the “h” (“HOM-ij”) settling that score for me. i wish i could remember who that was. am i already losing my memory? it’s a milestone birthday, but isn’t it a little premature to lose my memory? why can’t i remember? this will keep me awake tonight.

age has never mattered to me. a dear woman i cherish and knew because she was my great aunt on my daddy’s side of my tree taught me to never, ever, ever, ever, ever state my age. there’s no need, she said, it will just bring you pain because once they know your age, people will treat you accordingly. if they don’t know your age, they’ll treat you the way you behave in their presence.

am i treating my age like i’ve treated my weight? i look at wedding photos and cry for the young woman who bought an empire waist wedding dress to hide the body she thought grossly overweight at 98 pounds.

[ ::: ]

my color of the year is “deep ground”. i like that. find it comforting for reasons i’m unable to explain. that’s another thing: i don’t seem to be able to explain things, not that i ever have – not to certain levels of more literally-minded satisfaction – and now i’m wondering how important it really is that i should explain myself succinctly and articulately (or would that be articulately) anyway.

being a lifelong caregiver of many and various interests, i’ve long been able to tell you what other people will think about something, to see something and thing oh, so-and-so would love this – that sort of thing. but me, focus? historically, it’s been an impossible task. lately, though, i’m able to pare down, and it’s surprisingly (and alarmingly, at times) easy. mostly i funnel down by recognizing what i do not like, and if i say it aloud, i often forget to tack on the apologetic qualifier that implies “but it’s okay if you do.”

[ ::: ]

i’ve not worn a watch for decades, and yet i feel each tick and at least every-other tock. is that why it’s so easy to make decisions about – to sort how to spend my time, who to carry-on with, who and what to surround myself by?

having been a student then a teacher then a mother of students then a student again, my calendar has long started in september and ended in august. now i’ve decided that beginning in 2013, my birthday will be my new year’s day. decisions like that come easily to me, and they feel Good and Right. i continue to make my list of things i want to do in this new year, in this milestone year, feeling like a kid in the candy store. i should think of places to go, i tell myself, but when i consider travel, i shove it aside because it takes me away from the things i want to create. i have SO much i want to create.

[ ::: ]

i think i should probably dread this birthday, skirt around it, shoo it under the proverbial rug given that it’s an undeniable fact that i have more life behind me than in front of me. i am, you might say, quite in touch with my own mortality. death is frequently with me these days, mostly by way of a deep desire – a commitment, really, a resolve – to die well by living well.

wondering

Story

i continue to remember and explore and plan and imagine and sometimes I stomp my feet or swat the air with a loud “Pfffft.” Other times I weep and wail, my body wracking from the release and recognition and realization. Angela and I talk about what we want engraved on our tombstones and simultaneously decide we do not want our legacy to be “She helped a lot of people.”

That shocks both of us. We’re Good Girls From The South. We know better than to say such a thing. We know we were bred to help others. We know there’s no higher calling, no better way to spend a life. We know we ought to be ashamed. We know we just told The Truth.

I wonder who I might have been and how might life might have been different had I thumbed my cute little nose to all the things I’m not supposed to do:

Be attached
Care who gets the credit
Talk about my self
Talk about others
Wear glasses
Get too big for my britches
Draw attention to myself
Be sad
Start an argument
Continue an argument
Carry a grudge
Wrestle with pigs
Talk back
Regret
Cry over spilt milk
Fly over the cuckoo’s nest
Speak up
Speed
Dawdle
Take up too much space
Take more than my fair share
Make too much of it
Be any trouble

I wonder if it’s too late for nose-thumbing.
It feels so good, I wonder why I haven’t done it before.

I wonder if I’m done enough nose-thumbing for now.

This is one time it probably doesn’t matter if I told the truth or not. I start to explain what I mean, even though I’m not really sure. Maybe some explanation – any explanation – will lessen the impact of my words.

I wonder who or what will smite me for saying I don’t want to help people.

~

There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology,the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.

Help us walk through this. Help us come through.

Help.
It is the first great prayer.

Anne Lamott

~

Maybe it’s not that I no longer want to help people, maybe it’s that I don’t want to devote my life to helping other people and when I do set aside some of my life to give to others, I will help them in a different way because maybe – just maybe – the way I’ve been helping hasn’t really been helping at all.

Maybe I need to help myself first. Maybe that is the best – perhaps the only – way to help anybody anyway.

s . . . s . . . s

Mountains

IMG 0342

Sunsetca

i’ve been many places
in the past several weeks,

IMG 0210

traveling for many reasons,
all reasons involving other people.

Beach1

some folks are quick to divide people
into two groups:
those who like people
and those who don’t like people.
i continue to bump up against
that categorization,
but i no longer spend time and energy
trying to explain that i, too, like people
just in different doses.
defending and explaining is time and energy better devoted
to what my soul must have
as nourishment:
space,
silence,
solitude.

Solitude

water under the bridge

the sun peeked out from the clouds
just enough to lure us out
for a walk this morning.

i chose this hill,

Uphill

which looks enticingly meandering
from the bottom
and a bit more formidable from the top

Downhill

husband went another way.
he has his own hills to climb.

——-

yesterday the water raged,

Falls1

fierce and muddied in its flowing.
agitated, to say the least.

today, such a difference.

Falls1

there’s still a lot of water flowing,
but much has settled
making things clearer.

——-

on one side of the bridge,
the water is calm,
smooth,
like an oddly-shaped mirror
reflecting all around it.
deceptively placid.

but when it flows under the bridge
it transforms noticeably.
letting no boulder
or branch
stand in its way.
moss growing
only around the far edges.

Will You Still Love Me?

70sunset2

Once upon a time I was a productive junkie. Just the thought of creating a to do list revved me up, charged my batteries, got me going. And the satisfaction of checking things off? Oh my goodness, nothing felt near as sweet as reviewing the day’s list at bedtime and seeing all the items marked through. Each tick mark translated into “job well done.” With enough tick marks, I could be sure I’d left my mark, made the day count, earned my existence.

That was then.

Now, I have to drag myself to the paper to create a to do list. Digital task management software proves too easy to procrastinate, too easy to slide things over to the next day, the next month, the next year. Plus the satisfaction level just isn’t there without the sound of pencil scratching across the words on the paper. Besides trying every journal known to woman, I’ve come up with all sorts of carrots to lure myself back into such a simple, definable, provable existence. One item per index card, color coded by category. Moveable sticky notes lined up by category inside a colorful file folder for each day. And the rewards? Oh my goodness at the reward systems I’ve created and laid out before myself.

But no go. Despite it all, I cannot recapture that sense of being a woman-with-a-daily-mission. It’s not the system. Checking tasks off a list no longer satisfies me . . . probably in large part because the tasks on the list no longer satisfy me.

I seem to be living in a state of generalized grief. Where I once prided myself on cleaning the house every single Friday so it’s be spic and span for the weekend, I have to force myself to give it a quick going-over twice a month. I set the roomba out in a different part of the house every morning, make up the bed (because there’s something quite nice about pulling back the covers, even if I do rather detest moving the decorative pillows back and forth), do the laundry, and call that enough. I don’t really grieve the to-do list driven existence. Not specifically, anyway, because I do miss that feeling of structure the to do list provided. I miss that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of satisfaction.

I grieve things I haven’t even begun to articulate – I’m living the vegetable soup of grief and mourning. I grieve who I once was, who I could have been, who I am today, and who I might be One Day. I grieve for time squandered. I grieve things said, but mostly things not said. I grieve for my son and, in a different way, for my daughter. I grieve for the loss of my personal space. I grieve people I’ve lost due to death or miscommunications, misunderstandings, differing interests, or something else. And despite the fact that I’m an adult woman with adult children and though he died in 2000, I miss my Daddy like you wouldn’t believe.

And here’s the thing: I am fine with that.

I write about living in this state of generalized grief with great dread of the emails and phone calls that might come. Offers to pray for me, witness to me. Obviously I’m not a good Christian if I’m feeling like this. Others will want to cheer me up, urge me to talk to a therapist, tell me about what pills they are taking to feel better.

Here’s what I want to know: when did happiness become the ultimate desired state of being? Want to know the truth? I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt blissfully joyful . . . and that sorry showing has always been something that made me feel decidedly less than. Something I’m ashamed of. Something I ought to be ashamed of, given my circumstance in life. How dare me not be happy, know it, and clap my manicured hands.

Even with the to do lists and the structure they provided for me, I’ve had spells like this before. I’ve used every euphemism I could think of: I’ve been in funks and fallows. Had stomachaches, headaches, needed quiet time, all that. I’ve been known to run like hell, too. Escapism, I call it. Going out in search of distractions, leaving would-be reminders and wagging fingers behind, at least for a little while. I’ve tried. Lord knows, I’ve tried. Even when I didn’t put on makeup, I’ve put on my best, most cheerful happy face and did my best to make somebody else happy, happy, happy since I couldn’t always seem to do it for and by myself. I’ve run and I’ve hidden and I’ve denied in every way you can think of (though I’ve never even veered near the S-word) – not so much from the melancholy, sadness, depression, grief and mourning, acedia, or whatever, mind you, but from the shame, from the feeling of shirking My Responsibility, from the dread of hurting family, from the fear of being left alone because I’m no fun any more.

This time, though, I’m just sitting with It, sitting in It, this murkiness, this darkness as some might call It. And though it feels good to write this, I don’t mind telling you that I’m scared. I don’t just dread the folks rushing in to help, to fix me, to make me feel better. I dread the ripple effects this public display of negativity might have on my family. There’s still a stigma attached to not being happy, you know. At least around here there is. Will I need to sew every member of my family a special shirt emblazoned with a special version of The Scarlet Letter?

In days gone by, I feared parents wouldn’t let their children play with my children if they knew I was more sadful than joyful. I didn’t – and still don’t – want people examining my mother and blaming her for things done or not done in my upbringing. I didn’t – and still don’t – want to take a pill that will mask this, turn me into somebody else who, while the-new-she might feel foreign to me, will be found acceptable by others. I’ve lived most of my life that way without pharmaceuticals, thank you very much. I didn’t and still don’t want to talk to a therapist for a whole bunch of reasons we might or might talk about later.

So what if I’m grieving? So what if I’m sad? So what if I’m melancholy? So what if I’m living with acedia? Maybe grief is another lens to look through. Maybe melancholy is contemplation. Maybe sadness is a filter. Maybe acedia is a call to authenticity. Maybe mourning is another way to love.

I can still authentically be the life of the party – this is not the sum total of who I am. But it is very much me, too. And it’s not just the rainy weather talking here.

i don’t really know what to call this

Recipebox

I’ve taken to visiting thrift stores
and antique shops
every chance I get.
Once I visited to drop things off,
now I visit in search of
things I don’t know I am looking for
until I spy them.

Last week I found this recipe box
just like the one I owned when
the children were small.
That’s a block of time on the calendar, you know,
an entire lifetime, actually,
“when the children were small”.

My little tin box was filled
with index cards,
each bearing a recipe
for something that would feed us.

It seemed to simple then,
when the important things,
the nourishing things
fit on an index card.

it’s simple, really

1

when i say yes, please
or no, thank you
or even just yes or no . . .

when i speak without pre-qualifying
or apologizing for what i’m about to say . . .

when i lay down the need to defend
what i know to be True . . .

when i simply show up and live
my one wild and precious life,
the life that has my name
and nobody else’s name
on it . . .

when i create “just because”,
without worrying a single wrinkle
about the ability gang:
marketability
sustainability
credibility
or if it’s a good use of my time or not . . .

when i live as though living is the only thing that matters . . .

that’s when i know glee
that’s when i know ease
that’s when i know play
that’s when i know free
that’s when i know full.

~~~~~~~

inspired by today’s skypeversation with my friend and writing partner, julie daley
whose birthday is tomorrow, 7/26.
all together now: happy birthday to you . . .

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