The band

When I was 16 in 1965, my brother had a band. In the basement.

I don’t remember its name now — aging does that to a gal — but they were loud and noisy. I was in heaven.

My parents weren’t. The house shook with reverberating drums and a booming bass guitar and my folks were not happy about all this ruckus. Neither were our neighbors.

Garage_BandSo in the evenings, dad would hit the basement light switch off and on until everyone got the message. In hindsight, how or why they even allowed my brother and his friends to do this is beyond me, except perhaps peace and assurance in knowing where we all were during those days of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll.

The band, for me, however, was a gift from the music gods.

I was smart — not a good thing in high school — and I was awkward and shy. Friends were not knocking down my door. Until the band.

Having my own in-house group of rockers made me somewhat popular. I had a place in the unstable teen-aged universe of things. I belonged.

My so-called friends would straggle down the basement steps in groups, huddling in the darkness of our basement, all goo-goo-eyed at this head-and-hip shaking display of throbbing pubescent.

And we would listen — to the music of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Stones, and more — our chests and limbs pulsating from the blare of the amplifiers. We would dance and giggle. We were in awe.

I’m not sure what my brother’s intentions were in forming this group. Adulation? Girlfriends? The dream of becoming famous? Or maybe it was about the music, about channeling those newfound energies of angst and possibilities into something “cool” and “fab.”

girls screaming beatlesAs for me and my girlfriends, we knew that we would probably never see The Beatles or The Stones in concert (although I eventually did, lucky me). But we had the band. They were close enough.

And, of course, at that age, we all had our crushes. I fell heavy and hard for one guitarist, and then realizing that was for naught, fell for the drummer. I dreamed. I prayed. I wanted to marry him, please God, I’ll do anything if you’ll make him love me and someday we can marry. Ah, such innocent yearnings and stupidity at 16 years of age.

Life goes on and so did we.

A friend of mine did end up marrying that drummer. They divorced soon after. And he went on to have many problems in life. From that experience I learned: Be thankful that God has your back and doesn’t always answer every prayer.

Some of my other friends drifted, lost in life. Some found jobs. Some married and had children. Some died.

My brother went on to become brilliant in the field of physics — go figure — and I went on to a career in journalism and writing.

Growing up as a teenager in the 1960s wasn’t easy. I suppose it isn’t for any teen in any era. Still. We were living in times of sweeping change as Bob Dylan sang, dropping the baggage of patriarchy and rules and regulations, and searching for meaning.

But through it all we had the music.

beatlesToday, we still have that music as it has evolved into something this antiquated brain can’t seem to wrap itself around. But I know in my rock-and-roll heart of hearts that a band is forming somewhere even now, in some garage or basement, with its own brand of hip-hop or rap or whatever.

And in the end, some rockers refuse to hang up their guitars despite their age. Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones.

You can applaud them or shake your head in dismay, but you can’t fault their longevity or ability to draw crowds and captivate with their songs.

Then there’s Eric Clapton.

My brother used to call him “God.” A friend and I went to see him in concert a few years ago and he hadn’t lost whatever “it” is that he had in his youth. He played like a magician, his fingers caressing the frets with agility and grace.

And yes, he was gray. So was most of the audience. I was amused by this, wondering if we ever really let go of our youth. Do we cling to the tiniest piece of it as to keep ourselves young and in blissful denial?

Who can say?

I only know that the bands — whether in a basement, a garage or on the big stage — were about something more. They were about belonging. To something beyond ourselves. And to finding our own rhythm in the midst of change and chaos.

To discovering who we were then and who we would become.

Perhaps they still are. And the beat goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The border country

I saw a recent cartoon on Facebook that seemed to be a collective voice these days.

A stick figure was standing beneath a hovering UFO, pleading, “I’ll pay you to abduct me.”

I laughed, but the deeper meaning stayed with me.

Today, for many reasons, we want to run away. To leave behind the world and all its miseries. To escape from the woes that beset us.

I know I’ve done it quite a few times in my life. But sometimes — short of our own personal injury or that of others — we are called to stay put, to “be with” the suffering in our lives and in the world.

pain and sorrow womanWhy? Because the truth is, we share in this journey of sorrow. Life will have its way with us. Suffering will visit us — individually and collectively — and may have already visited. A death. A divorce. An accident. A diagnosis of terminal illness. A child lost to addiction.

And in the world at large, we don’t have to look far. Wars, hungry children, mass shootings, a political system gone amuck, a 24-hour news cycle that feeds society with a culture of death.

Sadly, I grew up watching a world sucked up in killing. I was in seventh grade and I remember coming home after school and watching the evening news. The Vietnam War was raging in black and white on the TV screen. It was the first time that cameras had filmed the carnage and my sensitive soul felt the wrongness of this.

Even at that young age I sensed the connection of each human being in our world. I knew this war was wrong, but on a deeper level, my heart knew it was beyond that. We were killing our collective soul.

Today, more than ever before, our collective soul is being challenged as we dwell in a “border country” — a tipping point that is filled with uncertainties, that is inviting us to ask new questions and to envision new possibilities that are not yet named.

sorrow-julie-fainIn Living on the Border of the Holy, L. William Countryman writes that this border country is one we all carry within us.

“The border country … does not so much draw us away from the everyday world as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is like the surface … to live there for awhile is like having the veils pulled away.”

In her book The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Painter expounds:

“Borders and edges are the places of transformation that call us to something deeper. Pulling away the veils means seeing the heart of things — which always demands a response.”

When we see the “heart of things” and life challenges us to the core with suffering or tragedy, we can either deepen in compassion or numb ourselves to the pain.

Today, I fear we have numbed ourselves. Again and again. Perhaps we are already begging that UFO to take us away from it all.

But it is only in “staying” — in being present to the pain and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable, that we can then be moved to do something.

And what is that? Perhaps, as difficult as it may be, we must first allow ourselves to deeply feel and connect with the suffering around us and within us. Poet and philosopher Mark Nepo writes:

“Each time we suffer, each of us is broken just a little, and each time we love and are loved, each of us is beautifully dissolved, a piece at a time. We break so we can take in aliveness and dissolve so we can be taken in.

“This breaking and dissolving in order to be joined is the biology of compassion. The way that muscles tear and mend each time we exercise to build our strength, the heart suffers and loves. Inevitably, the tears of heartbreak water the heart they come from, and we grow.”

sun in handsWhen we grow into compassion, we can then move into action from a grounded space in our souls. We become activists of the heart, whether it’s offering a hello to a stranger, volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting a shut-in, writing a letter to our Congress person.

The ways are simple. Not hard. I know I tend to make them hard, but they’re not.

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother giving food to strangers who knocked at the door. Visiting my elderly aunt. Caring for her bedridden mother-in-law. All these needs were within her small space of life and being, but she responded. With love.

As Nepo writes, there are always things that we can do in the face of suffering. “We can share bread and water in the storm,” he says.

And perhaps we need to pray. As never before. However you pray. In whatever ways you connect with a Higher Power.

There is a quote about Franciscan prayer that says prayer “is not an escape from the world, but an entrance into it. We become conscious in prayer of how much the world is with us and we are in the world.”

And while we are in the world, as Nepo writes, we arrive at what suffering does to us and we find only compassion … “the genuine, tender ways we can be with those who suffer.”

So then. Can we stay? Can we honor the pain in our personal lives and in the world? Can we be compassionate? Can we open our hearts to each other while living in the uncertainty and sorrow of the border country?

 

In the beginning … one year of this blog!

I can’t believe it’s been one year since I started this blog Stories for the Journey: Reflections on Life and the Spirit.

I’ve written a little more than one post per week, about 57.  As a former deadline-driven journalist, that amazes even me.

To be honest, this is so much better than journalism. I love writing this blog.

WOMEN HEARTEach week it comes from my heart. And when writing it, I am pulled out of time and space, touching some mysterious sacred energy that I hope touches you.

My deepest wish is that this past year you’ve found something — any one thing — that stirred you, inspired you, made you reflect or smile.

If so, I’d love to hear what it was. Or perhaps, what you didn’t like. We writers do love feedback!

So thanks for traveling the journey with me this past year.

I’m so grateful to each of you who have taken the time to read my words. To read the stories I’ve shared.

In honor of one year of this blog, I thought I’d take you back to the beginning, my first blog post below. The words still hold true.

May we continue to find hope and comfort together in sharing our stories for the journey. With so much gratitude to you all!

*******

In the beginning … was The Word.

As a writer, I’ve always resonated to that.  As a spiritual being, I love it. The Word. The power of the Holy Word, the energy of words and how we use them to tell stories.

And we each have a story. Indeed, we are all living stories, the word made flesh. We each embody words that whisper, shout and tell the world who we are — stories that speak of our joys and sorrows, our dreams and hopes.

My hope for Stories for the Journey blog is to share some of my own stories, hoping you will find your own heart — or a piece of it — in what I share. I hope to write about the sacred and the secular and everything else in between.

typewriter butterfliesSo here’s a short story to introduce myself. I was born in Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. When I was 10, my father’s work transferred him to the Philadelphia area. That one move changed my life. Forever.

I was an alien in a strange land, a place that felt cold, dark, dirty and where people moved and talked quickly. They didn’t drawl or dawdle, stop to sit a spell or bother to wave at you.

Even worse, I talked “funny.” My Texas twang in fourth grade elicited out-loud laughter from my classmates, much to the good Sister’s chagrin.

So I adapted. I learned I needed to fit in. But I never did. I’m learning now, in my old age, that maybe that’s been a good thing.

Perhaps because of all this, or in spite of it, I became a creative writer. A journalist.

You would think by now I would have been blogging for ages. But I haven’t. This is new to me. I am of the generation not-so technically inclined. So bear with me as I stumble along the way.

But back to the writing. Yes, I’ve won lots of awards. They’ve been nice, I admit. However, they’re not everything.

Outside validation isn’t as authentic as what we believe in our souls — the stories we tell ourselves about who we really are.

I’m sure we all have stories about not fitting in, feeling like we don’t belong. Ultimately, I believe we are all misfits and displaced people. At heart we are all homesick, whether it’s a spiritual yearning or coming home to ourselves. Both are really the same.

stories for the journey headerThankfully, as we journey here, we can — if we allow it — find strength in our stories, sometimes alone and sometimes together.

David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, says it best:

“We are the destination inside us and beyond us, and the journey along the way all at once, the one who makes it and the one who has already made it … we are alone in the journey and are just about to meet the people we have known for years …”

So. I am thankful that I’m about to meet you — each one of you — strangers whom I’ve known for years. My hope is we find comfort and hope together in sharing our Stories for the Journey.

Welcome.

The word

“Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.” ~ Rumi

*******

The hardest time, I believe, was right after dad had the stroke. He was in the acute rehab section of the hospital and looked like a lost child.

His eyes would take in a face in the dining room as he ate his lunch or dinner, but they were unreadable. His expression was blank. He seemed to be lost in some strange world, trying to decide how he landed there.

man's eyesAnd he didn’t say a word.

My mother, brother and I took turns being with him. For a month. We stayed by his side and helped him as best we could because he was unable to ask for what he needed. So we brought water. Food. Asked the staff for what he couldn’t ask for himself.

The stroke impacted his cognition but he also was diagnosed with aphasia.

For those who don’t know what this is, aphasia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to portions of the brain that makes it difficult to speak or understand speech.

This felt cruel and sad because dad had been a “word” person.

He once gave inspirational and motivational talks and lectures around the world. After he spoke, many people found the God within or said they had found a certain kind of healing. The Divine had channeled its love through dad’s spoken word to reach out and touch many people.

Why do I share all this? Because dad’s journey reminds me of the power of words.

And as a writer, I’m all about words. They have tremendous energy and emit a vibration. We can use them to heal or hurt. Bless or curse.

They are the tools we use to create and the choices we make in that creation are critical.

In many spiritual traditions the “word” is the beginning of creation. The Bible states that “in the beginning was the Word …” and in Indic Vedic thought the Word — Aum — is how the universe began.

book-child-dreams-fantasy-imagination-Favim.com-123786Written words in books transport us to new worlds, give us a mirror by which we see ourselves in new ways, and allow us to share in the common human experience.

Words help us know we’re not alone.

Spoken words of “good morning” to the cashier in the grocery store, a compliment to a co-worker, encouragement to a teen or elderly person — all can revive drooping spirits.

The opposite can also happen. One time, stuck in traffic with windows open, the driver next to me began cursing with vitriol at the driver in front of him. His words sliced through the air like knives.

Dad has come a long way these last three years since the stroke. Thanks to the goodness and kindness of the speech therapist at the hospital who has since become a dear friend, dad speaks.

But he still struggles to find words. He has good days and bad days. And it breaks my heart when he can’t finish a sentence, when he has the word lodged somewhere in his brain but he can’t retrieve it or put meaning to it. So I wait. I pray.

I have come to see all this as a lesson for me. As much as I love words, I also find them to be barriers.

Some things in life simply can’t be expressed verbally or on paper. The look in someone’s eyes, the touch of a hand, the welling up of joy at a luminous sunrise over the ocean or the anguish and heartache of losing a loved one.

silenceYes, we can express many life experiences. But words are often inadequate and fail to convey the deepest meanings and emotions of the human heart.

In truth, sometimes silence is the most effective way to communicate.

So, when dad can’t find the words, I touch that depth of silence. This is a good space. Perhaps it is the authentic and generative energy where creation truly happens.

Words are birthed. But silence is the womb.

And what is it we wish to bear and deliver to the world?