Saturday, June 30, 2007


I caught a cold back in May that lasted for a couple of weeks. Since then, I've had a dry, irritating, annoying cough that gets worse at night and seems to be connected to either cottonwood or something else in abundance in the air right now. My chest is tight and achy. When I went through the check out line at the grocery store today, I couldn't get through a sentence without coughing (it's the only time I've talked to anyone today, so I suppose it has nothing special to do with the store clerk or the store itself.)

I go to the doctor on Thursday. I'm not particularly proud of how long it's taken me to make that appointment. Aside from it being an irritation and an obvious indication that something's not right, I guess I just didn't think of it being a big enough deal to go to the doctor. There may be a bit of denial there.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Supervision needed

Last night I house/dog-sat for some friends who are out of town. It should have been a sign to me that trouble was ahead when I had my pj's on by 8:00 p.m., was curled up on the couch with the dog, my laptop, and the cable remote control.

Five hours later I went to bed.

Even though I'd only had 3.5 hours of sleep the night before.

Oh, and there was a nice big bowl of homemade ice cream thrown in there somewhere too. On top of a big dinner out with the gang.

And what did I watch? Planet Earth and the Food Channel. There was a lot of channel surfing too.

Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic, I tell you. How is it that a perfectly disciplined person, when out of her normal routine and presented with the option of watching TV (without supervision), turns into a perfectly sluggish couch potato?

The dog seemed perfectly content to keep me company though.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


The house in which I spent most of my childhood was a split-level ranch home with a basement. When my mom and step-dad married, we added on a section to the back of the house that included an expansion of the kitchen and dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an unfinished bedroom in the basement.

The dining room was on the upper level. An outside door was on the south wall of the dining room and a staircase led from a landing just outside the door to the ground level. A stairwell down to the basement door sat behind the staircase, creating a semi-enclosed space under the stairs. I could slip into that space and feel like I was hidden from the world.

It was useful for all sorts of things. I had my first kiss there. His name was Kirk and he was in the third grade. He had a head full of curly blonde hair and wore stylish wireframe glasses. My brother was dating his sister and I guess we had the idea that these things should be all in the family, so we did what we saw them do. It went something like this:

Me: I think the boy is supposed to lean in and put his lips on the girl’s. That’s what I’ve seen my brother do. I’ll close my eyes and you try it.
Him: Are you sure?
Me: Yeah. I have a lot of brothers and sisters. I’ve seen it a lot.
Him: Okay. [Closes his eyes and slowly leans in to kiss me quickly]
Me: I don’t understand why they like that so much.
Him: Me either. Let’s play tetherball.

It wasn’t exactly romantic, but definitely true to our eight-year-old selves. We lived for tetherball. The story is remarkable only in that it was out of character for us to let anything interrupt the endless hours of hitting the ball back and forth, trying to get it past the other player until it wrapped tightly around the pole. Romance was lost on us.

The space under the stairs was also the sight of a disgusting experiment with cigarette butts, yet another attempt to push past our age and try on adulthood. Limited access to matches or lighters, and probably some sense that we didn’t really want to taste the smoke, kept us from actually lighting up. We were more concerned about the look and perhaps the feel of the cigarette in our mouths.

But more than a place for the occasional premature foray into adulthood, the space under the stairs was my private getaway. My most vivid memories of that space are of sitting against the stairwell with Pierre the poodle on my left and Sugar the pointer on my right. They were my most trusted advisors. Their keen ears heard my deepest secrets.

I had a lot of secrets. At the age of four, my father dead and my mother out of commission for awhile with the heavy grief of widowhood and single parenthood, I learned to take care of myself. And even after the heaviness lifted, the habit of holding in my pain was firmly established. I had a skillfully crafted appearance of strength and resilience in front of my family, but the dogs knew better. They heard what it was like for me to lose a father to cancer, and then to lose him again when all mention of him was erased to help assure my step-dad that my mom’s loyalty was to her present husband. They knew how scared I was when my mother would rage through the house, angry at everyone, but no one in particular. They knew the intense fear I felt about losing my step-dad when my mom dared to suggest she might divorce him. In that small space, with the dogs on either side of me, I felt safe and protected. For the time that it was necessary, it served me well. It helped me cope with things children shouldn’t have to face.

I think about that place a lot when I feel insecure and unable to articulate to others what I’m feeling. There was something freeing about not having to have words for the dogs. Their love and attention and loyalty remained steadfast whether I spoke or not. In my child’s mind I was certain they understood. And because it brought relief I developed the habit of protecting myself by retreating from others and coping with the feelings on my own.

I don’t have a stairwell to retreat to anymore, but I still withdraw. I have a wealth of ways of keeping people at a distance when what I’m feeling seems to contradict the exterior of strength and self-sufficiency. Pushing people away so I can retreat is like creating that space under the stairs, where I’m left with only myself and a couple of inarticulate dogs to comfort me. I think that’s protection. I think I’m keeping myself safe. But maybe it’s just a cowardly way of trying to reinforce that false notion that I’m self-sufficient. Maybe it’s just a way of recreating the temporarily necessary reality of my childhood, while simultaneously robbing myself of some the richness life has to offer.

I need a new image of protection, one that leads me to engage rather than retreat, one that encourages trust in the universe, instead of assuming that I’m alone to face the world.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This and that

I had to go out of town on business this weekend, well, business mixed with a little pleasure. I rented a car for the excursion, and when I showed up, AJ the manager handed me keys to a Mazda 5. Someone suggested this is God's way of helping me get in touch with my mom side. I still refuse to think it's a van.

I learned a really big lesson about being myself and saying what I think this weekend. It seems some people really want you to say that difficult thing that you think they don't want to hear. I mean, I know that's true for me, but I learned in a new way how important it is for me to say it to someone I care about even though I think they might not want to hear it.

I have a new office. I moved up the hall one office from where I was. I have more space and will eventually have a door cut into the back wall of my office to give me easier access to my admin assistant. The office switch meant moving two other people. I don't know for sure, but I may be the only one who is happy about the move.

I've had a lot going on in the past couple of weeks that's forced me to work hard at some things that don't come naturally to me. It's hard work for changes that I want, not the kind of hard work that seems never to bear any fruit. What I'm doing now is leading to some good things, and I feel really happy about it, but I have to admit, I'll be glad when it isn't quite so hard.

Life is good, my friends. Very good. But I really need to go to bed now.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

As requested

I'm getting a lot of blogging mileage out of the new table and chairs. Here are a couple of pictures. As you can see, PPBob thinks the table and chairs are hers.

There are two more chairs and a bench to go with the table, which aren't pictured.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Momentous occasion, the second

I cooked dinner and had people over.

Actual people.

In my apartment.

Eating food I cooked.

At my new table.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Momentous occasion

Ladies and gentleman, I purchased a dining room table and six chairs today for a very good price. Craigslist is my friend.

The cat is confused. She can't decide which chair to sit in.

New life

This morning I was greeted by a baby raccoon and his mother. Their chirping chatter, warning me to keep a safe distance, caught my attention as I raised my leg to do hamstring stretches alongside the concrete barrier across from my apartment. I looked up to see the baby shyly peering from the other side of a tree, his masked face looking curiously my way. When he saw that I wasn’t going to move in his direction, he cautiously crawled to the top of the tree trunk and watched me. A short while later his mother appeared behind him.

It’s hard to say who was more curious about whom. The mutual interest interrupted morning routines. I could have watched them for a long time, but my curiosity slowed them down. We were engaged in a staring match, a game I was destined to lose. And, it was keeping me from my appointed task. I took my first step down the path, looking back over my shoulder as I did. With me a safer distance away, they went about their morning’s work. I turned to watch as the baby slid face first into a hole in the tree trunk, his hind feet perched carefully on the rim of the hole, his backside twitching as he dug deeper. His mother stood guard, keeping a watchful eye fixed on me until I was out of sight.

Minutes later, one of the young foxes I see every morning ran confidently up the path toward me. He stopped a few yards in front of me and sat to watch as I ran by. He has the gangly features of an adolescent. His triangular head sits awkwardly atop his long, thin body. He cocked his head as I ran past, life’s universal sign of curiosity.

There is new life all around me, exploring the world for the first time, taking everything in with the intense curiosity of a child’s mind, certain that there is no finer thing, nothing more fascinating than the fan that whirls above its head or the leaf that mysteriously blows into the house through the open screened door. The intensity of their fascination explodes into squeals of delight, their little bodies unable to hold the sheer pleasure of exploring and seeing, of being alive in a world so full of new things to experience.

I am a child again. Every breath I take surprises me with the life it brings. It settles deep in my belly, a satisfying wave of peace and joy splashing me as it finds its resting place deep inside me. I see what has been there all along. I hear with new ears the sounds that have always filled the days of my life, but instead of allowing them to become a low roar in the background of the darkening dullness of depression, they become the messengers of life’s magnificent goodness. I’m seeing for the first time what I’ve known all along, hearing with new ears creation’s ancient testimony of each creature’s place and worth, of our connectedness and blessed dependence.

I am not alone. I am kept in the watchful eye of loved ones who see what lurks in my blind spots. I am embraced by love that knows the urgency of truthfulness. The certainty of its presence, once questioned, now trusted, straightens my back and lengthens my stride. I feel it pulsing through me with each breath I breathe. I have dared to believe that I belong to the earth, nurtured at its breast, attentive to its lessons of purpose and meaning, living into the freedom that comes when I surrender to my own humanity.

Friday, June 15, 2007

8 random things

Katherine tagged me for the 8 random things meme. I can't remember the last time I did a meme. This is a perfect one for me tonight.
  1. I am remarkably gifted at wasting my free time, even without the distraction of TV.
  2. I never tire of the humor in the Pink Panther movies (the originals with Peter Sellers). I can watch them over and over again and laugh every time. Oddly, PPBob and I have developed a Cato-Clouseau kind of relationship. She likes to hide and attack me.
  3. Apparently I'll be going to Yosemite the day after JM turns in her dissertation in about four years so that we can hike Half Dome. This just came to me in a dream or something.
  4. I do not own a dress or skirt that fits anymore. I have no intentions of buying one that fits. That's remarkably liberating to me for some reason.
  5. I have very ticklish ears.
  6. I would love to learn to play the guitar.
  7. I am very good at remembering people's names, but I can never remember the names of movies, songs, actors, or musicians that I've seen or heard.
  8. I had a ridiculously difficult time coming up with 8 random things about myself.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I had to travel for work today, so my work day started with a trip to the rental car agency to pick up my vehicle. AJ the manager checked me in and asked if I wanted a Mazda 5 or a Subaru. When I rent for work, I usually choose something that blends into the background, is relatively conservative and businesslike, and gets decent gas mileage. I asked for the Mazda 5. I signed the documents, grabbed the keys, and looked as AJ pointed me in the direction of my car.

AJ said Mazda 5 and I replied Mazda 5, but I pictured Mazda 6, a nice generic, nondescript sedan, preferably white or grey in color, something that just sort of disappears into the road when I barrel down the highway. I have this fantasy that neutral- colored cars decrease the likelihood of a ticket. The warning ticket tacked to my bulletin board at work is a testament to the falsehood of that fantasy. Still, I believe it.

At first I thought he was pointing to the red car directly across from me, until I realized, to my relief, that it was a Toyota. I walked up two more cars and saw the car I’d rented. It didn’t look like anything I’d rented before. It was kind of young and hip, I thought. It looked a little like a hatchback, only bigger. I walked up next to it and unlocked the doors so I could put my things in the back seat. As I got closer, I saw that it had a sliding door. “Good god!,” I thought. “I’ve rented a minivan. I can’t drive a minivan. I’m not a mom. I’m single. I’m, I’m, I’m….cool!” I tried the key, thinking maybe the car was unlocked and that I hadn’t, in fact, opened the right car. The key worked.

I pulled the door back and looked in to find that there were six, possibly seven seats. I got serious van vibes and worried about my image. Nevertheless, I was running late and had to get going. I put my things in the back seat and drove off.

It didn’t drive like a van. I was sitting up high, but not above everyone. I could maneuver it easily. Clearly, I was driving a hatchback, I reasoned. I sat back, put a cd in the player, cranked the volume, and set my mind on the trip ahead.

I decided to stop for coffee at a place I frequent. I did a u-turn, pulled into the parking place in front of the shop, got out and walked in. Isaiah the barista walked up from the back room. He smiled and greeted me by name. I’m a regular.

Isaiah is twenty-something, a rock climber who wears designer jeans, retro shirts, and whatever you call those shoes that look like something I rented at the bowling alley when I was twelve. His curly blonde hair flows from his head like a bush. His beard makes him look like Grizzly Adams.

“You get a new car,” he asked. I was stumped. He’d come out from the back of the shop when I walked in. It hadn’t occurred to me that he saw me drive up. I hesitated. “Your car. Is it new? I don’t remember you driving a van.”

Looking down to find my frequent buyer card, I mumbled, “It’snotavan.”


“I said it’s not a van!”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a Mazda 5.”

He nodded his head. “Right. A van.”

“Define ‘van.’”

“You define ‘van.’ You seem to be the one with specific ideas about what it is and what it isn’t. I think you’re a little sensitive about this,” he said chuckling. He stepped back to start my drink. The cup was sitting on the counter under the espresso machine. He pulled the shots and began to the steam the milk. “What’s wrong with driving a van?”

“I’m not a mom. I’m, I’m….well, I’m not a mom.”

“Is there something wrong with being a mom?”

“No. I’m just not one, so I don’t think I should be driving a car that makes me look like one.” I suddenly remember that I’d been offered the Subaru and wondered why I didn’t just take it. Sure, it screams lesbian, but I am one. I could drive it with my authenticity intact, and in that moment, we would have had a very different conversation.

The sound of the steam blowing against the bottom of the metal milk container brought me back. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t actually ordered a drink. I was curious what he was fixing me. “What are you making for me?”

“The same thing you’ve order the last 25 times you’ve been in here.”

“I haven’t been here 25 times.”

“Okay. The same thing you’ve ordered the last 15 times you’ve been here. A large mocha.”


“Is that okay?”

“Um, yeah. I was just going to get something different today. One of those Previa mochas.”

“What’s a Previa mocha?” The blood rushed from my face. As soon as he said it, I knew what I’d done, but I tried to cover it up.

“You know. A mocha with semi-sweet European chocolate. Not that sweet American stuff.”

“That’s not a Previa. Where did Previa come from? Wait. I know what a Previa is. It’s a VAN, a Toyota, isn’t it?”

“Um. Yeah.”

He nearly dropped the milk from laughing so hard. “Why did you think of Previa?”

“Well, I have some friends who have one.”

“Really. Do they have kids?”


“So, it’s not a mom-car to them.”

“Well, no. But, it’s still not right. I mean, I drive up to their house and see it sitting there and I wonder who’s visiting them. They’re not van people. I don’t really know why they have a van.”

“Or maybe you’re just narrow-minded about the whole van thing. Is the regular mocha okay, or do I need to make a Prague mocha?”

“Regular is fine. You’ve already started it.” He picked up the cup, carefully poured the milk, creating the perfect swirl of coffee and milk to look like a leaf. I paid and walked away.

“I’m going to go get in my van now,” I said, looking back over my shoulder.

“That’s right. Embrace it, Linda. Embrace the van.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why I'm thinking about the RWBB these days

PPB asked if I was trying to get the draft below "right." The answer, in short, is no. I have no particular plans for the actual writing of the post beyond the process of identifying the emerging meaning of the event. My sense of the post not being satisfying was more with feeling like I hadn't/haven't arrived yet at an understanding of the meaning. That's fine. I'll know when the time is right.

But, I did mention in the comments that there is a reason why I'm spending some time reflecting on the red-winged blackbird right now. Let me see if I can articulate this, and then, I'm done with the RWBB for awhile....

There was a convergence of three things last Sunday that brought something into clearer focus for me. First, while having breakfast with my friend J., I got a glimpse of how important it is to me that I have the freedom to allow my evolving theology to develop without the confines of a religious creed. She modeled her own sense of freedom to wrestle with ideas and it just helped me be able to admit outloud for the first time that, though I don't know if this will happen, it is conceivable to me that I may ultimately reach a point of rejecting any construct of God at all. [It still makes me nervous to say that!] Shortly after saying that, my friend T. preached about rational mysticism. She began with a definition of theology that helped me make an important shift, from making God the central subject of theology to making the process of meaning-making the central subject. [Again, it still makes me nervous to say how important that shift is to me.] Later that afternoon, during the marathon Pride interfaith service, a minister whose call to ministry sounded similar to mine as I experienced it early in my life, ended with a song, "Jesus Knows Me, This I Love." One of the verses refers to Jesus' knowledge of the many ways in which we hide. I had already felt some stirring inside me earlier in the service, as I listened to some rather meaningful stories and experiences, to pay attention to my sense of call to ministry. As she sang that particular verse, I became aware of ways in which I still hide. I'm out in most areas of my life now, so it's not so much my sexual orientation that leads me to hide anymore, but the habit of hiding is deeply engrained, and in some real ways, I'm hiding from that sense of call.

That evening I thought a lot about why I'm hiding from it. I think the answer is that I'm not sure how to conceive of my identity as minister with the shifts in theology I've experienced over the past few years. And, I've been afraid of making the commitment ordination requires given the fact that my theology has shifted enough that I've already had to leave two denominations. I don't feel comfortable entering into an ordination covenant if it means limiting my freedom to grow. More to the point, I'm not comfortable tying my career and living to a particular dogma or creed that I may ultimately reject.

The last conversation I had with my CPE supervisor when I finished the residency last year was about my relationship to the church and how it might ultimately impact on my decision to seek ordination. One of the great awarenesses that came out of the residency was the extent to which I've lived in a co-dependent relationship with the church most of my adult life. I've seen myself as a servant of God, available to help meet the needs of the church, without ever expecting anything in return from the church. I made a commitment in that last meeting with my supervisor that I would no longer live that way, that I would carefully consider what I need from the church and not be afraid to expect those needs to be met, and if a call to ministry re-emerged in the process of developing a healthier relationship with a faith community, then I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

The gift of the convergence of ideas on Sunday is that it helped me name one of the great needs I have before I can agree to the covenant I make if I am ordained. I need freedom to grow. Words cannot express the depth of my conviction nine or ten months ago that there was no church that could offer me that much freedom. That conviction has been consistently challenged the past several months, and on Sunday, I was able to acknowledge that the UU church may very well be the kind of partner I need to live out my call.

So what does this have to do with the red-winged blackbird? My thoughts were taken back to the sight of the flock of birds that I saw for the first time in March as I wrestled with the events of Sunday. I wondered if the UU church is a flock with which I'm meant to fly, not just in terms of being a member, a reluctant flockee flying on the edges of the flock looking for an available escape, but as one that is fully committed to the liberal religious tradition that seems to offer a much needed breath of fresh air.

I have no idea if this makes sense to anyone but me, but there you have it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dinner with L.'s family

On Thursday I helped M. move some of her stuff to her new home in city an hour and a half away. We drove in a caravan of four loaded cars with M. in the lead, her brother and I in the middle, and L. taking up the rear. M. wasted no time getting there.

Our first stop was her 95-year-old mother's house. D. had dinner waiting for us. We helped get it on the table. M., L., and M.'s brother S. were exhausted. They'd been working all day in the heat trying to get things out of the house and cars loaded, that on top of the days, well, weeks of packing and preparing the new house. D. has been keeping them fed and helped guide the movers when they arrived with M.'s stuff on Wednesday, so she too was pretty tired.

We sat down to eat, the table full of food, everyone politely waiting for a blessing. D. looked around at the weary bunch and decided she would pray. She thought she was likely the least tired of the bunch, so we bowed our heads and waited.

"Good God," she said, more like a curse than a loving address, and I was immediately in trouble. It struck me as so funny I wasn't sure I could sit quietly. I started shaking and noticed what I thought were snickers around the table so I looked up. When I opened my eyes, I saw L. shaking and quietly laughing, a big smile across her red face. S. and M. were both smiling, heads still bowed and eyes closed. As soon as I made eye contact with L., I was done for. Trying to hold the laughter back resulted in a squeaky, pained laugh that I immediately tried to cover up with a cough. Mercifully, D. finished her prayer very shortly after that.

They all teased D. and she responded with a playful, "What? You don't think God is good?"

I've been laughing about it ever since.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Red-winged blackbird: Part II DRAFT

The following is a draft. I've been working on it the past couple of days (when I haven't been slightly preoccupied, that is). I'm not at all satisfied. I'm trying to work out my understanding as I write and I'm not there yet. I thought it might be helpful to post a draft and get some feedback, and then write some more.

My dad was a red-winged blackbird, in a metaphorical sense that is, and my association of him with the bird has often helped me understand the many ways in which he is always with me, even when I lived far away and saw far too little of him, even after he died. The shift in perspective that’s happened for me since seeing the flock of them has been the growing awareness that I, too, am a red-winged blackbird, at least in the sense that the meaning I associate with the bird’s behavior and habits provides a deepening self-understanding. Just as I watched my dad withdraw to a solitary place, and like I’ve seen the solitary nature of the red-winged blackbird, I’ve understood myself to be one who prefers to be alone. I’ve attributed that to a long struggle with shyness, to a genuine comfort with silence and aloneness. Those things are true about me, but like any trait that becomes so fixed that one is limited in her ability to reach out for things that are longed for, hoped for, they are not inviolable assumptions. They can be brought into relationship with other aspects of my self that at times reject the more dominant self-understanding.

The sight of the flock of red-winged blackbirds rising out of the field like a dark storm cloud was jarring. It brought into question what I had assumed to be true, capital “T” true. Red-winged blackbirds don’t flock. They’re solitary. In reality, as I’ve read about them since, they do flock in the late winter, early spring, just prior to mating season. It is only when mating and brooding that the birds spread out, become territorial, and live alone.

The question, the sense of being jarred by the sight, I believe is more self-revealing than it is a genuine curiosity about the behavior of birds. As I’ve thought about it, I realize that in some way the sight of a lone red-winged blackbird was affirming to me. It gave me a way of making sense of my need or desire to stand on the outside of the communities or groups with which I’ve been associated. Some creatures are just meant to be alone; they don’t really need others, I would reason. It offered an explanation for why I felt alone and not entirely connected to the people or groups with which I was associated, but, though I’ve struggled to admit this, it’s never been satisfying. However clumsy I’ve been in seeking it, however awkward my pursuits of intimacy have been, I want the deep connectedness that comes with intimate, trusting, loving relationships. I want to fly with the flock now. Or, perhaps more realistically, I’m ready to move in and out of the flock, able to affirm my solitary nature and my longing for connection.

Lest you think I’m embracing the new self-understanding with great confidence, let me assure you that I’m the bird flying on the edge of the flock, my exit route in clear sight. It’s hard to write about the flock of red-winged blackbirds. I don’t have enough of that experience yet to know what it feels like, to have any sense of the meaning that ultimately I will draw from it. What I see are possibilities. My life is rich with people who are longing for the same thing, but I still find I’m surprised by that. Has that been absent in the past or is there a greater readiness for it on my part that enables me to see where it’s present? I know this feeling of seeing possibilities, though. I’ve been there before, but found that as I grew and changed, I started separating more and more from the flock, or maybe they separated from me. It’s happened with my family. It’s happened with the churches of which I’ve been a part. It seems there’s a cost to growth. The more I live out of my own integrity, the greater the likelihood that I will be alone.

But perhaps that’s the gift of the red-winged blackbird, the opportunity to see that the creature with which I so strongly identify moves in and out of the flock, able to see that there is a time to fly together, and a time to fly alone. That does not keep me from longing for something more permanent. My experience teaches me that permanence does not exist. And perhaps freedom, the kind that I long for, the kind without which I am no longer willing to live, means living with that both/and, trusting myself to know how to live into what the present moment offers, able to embrace the gift of a solitary life and a life lived with the deepest of connections, yet always aware that the next moment may lead to change.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Red-winged blackbird: Part I

There’s a ditch that runs along the exit ramp where I turn off to go to the office. The ditch is deep. A stream of water runs through it and the grass grows tall and thick along its banks. Everyday I see a red-winged blackbird perched atop the grass, as if suspended in air. How the grass holds its weight is a mystery to me. I’ve wondered about these things for a long time.

The red-winged blackbird has flown in and out of my life since I can remember. I grew up in the middle of the country, surrounded by farmland and prairies. As I rode my bike on the country roads of my childhood home, flying up and down the gravel hills, I watched the red-winged blackbird fly low over the grasses and up into the sky, the arc of its flight dramatic and pronounced, like the flight of a fighter jet in an air show. The bright red spot on the wings seemed to glow as an ember in the dark coal of a campfire. They were mysterious to me, always solitary, lonely, quiet.

Their presence on the quiet fishing trips I took with my dad throughout my life was so common and dependable that I began to associate them with the man who taught me to love nature and who loved me with an intensity that only a parent knows. He was a quiet man who often retreated from the noisy kitchen where we kids congregated while my mom cooked dinner to his recliner in the den to read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. He operated with an economy of words that was profound in its scarcity. He chose words carefully, speaking slowly and deliberately. Each word mattered and by the time he got around to saying something, he had boiled down his meaning to the bare bones, nothing flowery, nothing to sift through. What he meant was always clear.

Our fishing trips were times of silent companionship, times when a deep sense of mutual understanding and appreciation grew, seldom ever through the words exchanged, but from watching for and listening to what wasn’t said. From the time we loaded the truck with our poles and tackle and bait until we returned home, few words were spoken, and seldom more than the usual, “You get a bite?” or “That’s a beauty. Looked like he put up a fight.” Occasionally we would stop to discuss the quality of the water and the kind of fish we knew to be in the pond so we could decide what lure or bait to use. But mostly we stood next to each other for hours without ever saying a word.

It’s hard to convey all that was communicated in that silence. I grew to appreciate it with a deep sense of gratitude. The silence taught me to listen and pay attention, to know that words are seductive, often veiling what happens between two people. We were two solitary creatures standing near each other, preferring the quiet company of one to the often loud and boisterous company of our large family life back home. And just as I came to count on the strength of his quiet presence, I grew to appreciate the red-winged blackbirds that always seemed to watch us from their tallgrass perches, inspiring awe as they flew off, the brilliance of the red that colored their wings standing in stark contrast to the oily blackness of their bodies.

My dad died a little over four years ago. A stroke in the middle of the night a few weeks before Christmas landed him in the hospital. I made hurried arrangements to be gone from work and drove to the hospital to be with him. We had a great afternoon talking about family and fishing. The next morning when my mom and I returned to his room, he was seizing. I quickly called for a nurse and while we waited for him to come, my mom and I each took my dad’s hands and talked to him. His speech was garbled and barely audible, but I listened carefully to what he was saying. Over and over again he said, “I love you,” first to my mom and then to me. In a matter of minutes he was in a coma, making even this quiet man of few words seem strangely silent. I stayed by his side the whole day, holding his hand, wiping his brow, rubbing the fingers on his big, strong hands. I was a hospital chaplain, used to watching the breathing of people who were dying. I didn’t need reports of brain scans. I knew our time together was drawing to a close. Within a few hours, he quietly stopped breathing, and I had a deep sense of his spirit lifting, flying high in the dramatic arc of the red-winged blackbird.

Family had been contacted in the morning to alert them to the seriousness of the second stroke. They started arriving that evening and the house grew noisy with stories of fast trips to the hospital and reports of who was coming when. The dissonance of multiple cellphones ringing at the same time echoed in my ears and I found myself drawing quieter and quieter, withdrawing into myself, trying to find a quiet place. The house was loud, and it grew louder over the next two days as more people arrived, and the sheer number of opinions about how the arrangements should be handled increased the likelihood of disagreement.

My brother and I were charged with doing a eulogy. He had strong opinions about how it should be done properly in order to honor God. I was more concerned about honoring my dad. We locked horns and fought fiercely at one point, opting to separate and return to the task after I had had a chance to sleep and calm down. My oldest brother had a hotel room down the street and offered to let me retreat to it that night, and in the solitariness of that room, I was able at last to find the quiet place I needed. My mind carried me to the edge of a pond in a field of tall, green grass, where I felt a gentle breeze on my face and watched as the red-winged blackbird flew just over the field. His quiet, calm presence gave me the words I needed to capture the picture of my dad that I wanted to convey.

Throughout the years of my life, I’ve seen the red-winged blackbird flying over the lake on the mountain where I hiked in California, in the countryside surrounding the city where I lived in Texas, and now along the river at home and in the ditch near my office. I had never seen them when they weren’t alone or in small groups of two or three until this past March when JM and I were returning from our trip to Yosemite. We drove through the rich farmland that rests between the mountains and the ocean, the sun shining brightly on the lush green fields. I looked out the window just as a cloud of black arose out of the field next to me. I turned to watch a flock of blackbirds fly and as I looked back, I saw the familiar bright red spot dotting each wing. The richness of color, red on black against the blue sky, above the green field, took my breath away.

I've been trying to understand the meaning of that sight ever since. Why now? Why did the solitary creature choose this time in my life to show me that sometimes it chooses to be in a flock?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Nothing much to say

I wonder why I feel compelled to put something up on the blog even when I don't have much to say. Hmmm... There's a lot on my mind right now, but much of it is unbloggable for a variety of reasons. Have no fear, though. Things are good here. Very good.

I haven't been running for three weeks. That's going to change tomorrow. The cold that would not end is finally over, so it's time to get back with it. After a week or so of not running, I started slipping back in to some old habits, so I've become very aware of how much order that daily practice brings to my life.

I had to travel for work yesterday. I rode with one of my colleagues. It's the last time I ride with her when she drives. The fact that I awoke with a deep sense of gratitude for my life today is due in no small part to the fact that I feel quite fortunate to have arrived home alive yesterday evening.

I went to church this morning and to an interfaith service that was part of Pride week in our fair city. That, plus all of the denominational meetings I've attended this past week, I figure I've had enough church to last a month or more. The service this afternoon was 2.5 hours long, about 1.5 hours too long in my estimation. I guess practicing radical inclusion takes a really long time.

That said, there were parts of the service that were particularly moving for me. I came away with an awareness that there are ways in which I'm still hiding. In fact it was in the words to a song sung by a pastor whose call to ministry sounds awfully familiar that I found the words to name that awareness. Anyone want to guess how I see myself hiding still?

Okay, for nothing much to say, this post seems awfully long.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Random moments from an interesting week

I've had some interesting moments this week. None of them is really worthy of a post by itself so I thought I'd just share a few of them here...
  • I went to a regional denominational meeting in the city west of here. It's not my denomination, so I wasn't familiar with how business is conducted. I went to hear a report from another institution that's planning to start a branch campus in city west of here and to do some recruiting. Waiting for the report was an experience. I was with a couple of colleagues, including one of our vp's who quickly resorted to various attempts at entertaining himself. At one point, he started making cracks about the people on the podium. After one man was introduced, he said, "And his nickname is giraffe." I looked up to see a man whose head sat squarely atop his shoulders without a hint of neck to be seen. Totally made me laugh. Guess you had to be there. Guess you had to be as bored as we were.
  • When I arrived in city west of here, there were three major accidents on the freeways running through town. All the major routes to the part of town I needed to get to were closed, so I had to wander through on side streets. Never seen anything like it, not even in major metropolitan area where I lived before I moved here, the city where people drive like idiots.
  • Because I'm apparently highly suggestible, the story of a friend's recent experience of ordering spinach enchiladas, even though she doesn't like spinach unless it's raw, persuaded me to order spinach ravioli at dinner Wednesday night, even though I don't like spinach unless it's raw. I, however, was quite pleased with my meal, and even enjoyed the bite of spinach gnocchi my companion offered me. What is it with the spinach?
  • While having coffee with my Wednesday dinner companion on the patio at a bookstore in city west of here, our conversation was interrupted when she felt the distinctive plop of bird poop on her head. She reached up to confirm her suspicions and discovered that said bird hit her just so that it dripped down on to her suede jacket too. We laughed. Not ten minutes later, I felt the distinctive plop of bird poop on my leg. We laughed harder. It's now known as the bird shit bonding experience. Nothing brings you together like the mutual experience of being shat upon. There was much rejoicing that the birds did not appear to have eaten berries for dinner.