Unmasked: Seeing And Being Seen (and poetry)

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This may be a first for me. The first time I have started a blog post with these words “my eyes are filled with tears as I write these words”. You can’t see me, so I am revealing that truth to you. By the time I edit the post, I may have dried my own tears. Gotten my emotions under wrap and felt less fragile.

This is not about life and death. Or monumental loss. It is about a slow death and losing out. Sacred and holy moments encircle us. God has presented us with glory upon glory. This is a sharing of grief at what might not have been. This is a story of being open to wonder, possibility and the richness of meeting a stranger.

Recently, I was on a plane returning from Boston, during the last leg, the La Guardia to Charleston leg I was admittedly drained and a shell of myself. It was like I had left it all on the mat. I’d been to a hospital with a friend. And yet, I felt as if someone had hooked me up to an IV and sucked the lifeblood out of me.

I had flown to Boston for a whirlwind visit,  to accompany a friend for one day at Mass General Hospital. Can a day feel like a week? This day, filled with Ubers and airports and fabulous Italian food and Charles Street window shopping and digging down deep into the well of friendship was wonderfully full.

For obvious reasons we had hoped and planned to sit together on each of the four legs of the trip. We were having rich conversations and building on our rather new friendship.

Things happen. Unexpected things. Wake you up things that begin with an airline employee or two that could not accommodate our request. I was separated from my companion and seated beside a pleasant stranger. Here was my opportunity to just rest. I gave myself permission to ignore my seatmate. He had a kind smile, a quiet presence and a boyish but fast becoming a man face. Curl up and process my trip, that was my rather selfish goal. (Well curl up as well as one can in a cramped airplane.) I was too weary to read or talk. I was “conversationed out.” But while my plans were to close my eyes, my mouth and my mind, the young man beside me was there to school me. Teach me to stay awake to the possibility of wonder.

Somewhere mid-air my heart softened and we began to chat. What would follow would be a deep conversation about life and death, his grandmother’s and my mother’s. What would follow would be his telling of his career in medicine, his plans to move to Seattle to follow a dream and his upcoming trips to visit friends in Finland and to Prague.

He was young and full of wanderlust. Wise beyond his years. Kind and gentle. I was grateful that the  invisible curtain between us was ripped to shreds. I was grateful that I gave him a ride once we landed and that I had another hour in the car to learn more about life through a stranger’s enthusiastic teachings. Passion is contagious, especially when it is laced in gentle kindness.

I have missed hundreds of chances to intersect with glory. Been closed to seeing or being seen. Been prone to stay masked. This time. This one time on a plane with one gentle stranger I woke back up, again. To what rests and waits in quiet possibility.

How much richer is life, how much sweeter is the wandering when we catch hold of the eyes of someone seated in the row beside us. Those bumping elbows, knocking knees, unknown souls, they have a story to tell too.

Are we listening? Because of the wonders of social media I follow my new friend and he follows me, on Instagram. And he sent me a thank you note for the ride which allowed him to avoid one very expensive Uber ride to his destination far north of the airport. My friend’s husband picked us up and provided my new friend with a lovely historical narrative of Charleston as we made our way to my car, parked at their home.

This was his first trip to the South. I almost blew it. I almost caused him to think, what Southern hospitality? What grace? He gave me more than I gave him. But I hope he saw a piece of a shred of a thread of something which said, welcome. We are glad you are here.

How rich and lovely to have a new friend and to be seen and to see. Now there is one less stranger in the world.

Perhaps we said to each other, not in words but in deeds…

You are seen. And you are heard. And you have a beautiful story to tell.

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Follow me on Instagram where I am looking out for wonder, beauty and the extraordinary in the ordinary. (@graceappears on Instagram)

Here is a poetic offering from today’s Instagram post. Follow the link to see the image and the post in its entirety.

UNMASKING

Be there to hear the tree fall in the woods

Be there to see the goose lay the golden egg

Be there to touch the invisible line between now and then

Be there to smell something fishy

All wonder and marvelous mystery need you to testify

And say “I saw”

Be the beholders

Be the ones who witness the unfolding, unraveling and unmasking 

Right here is a marvelous place to be

A witness to it all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homebound: From Mersea To Maplehurst With Love, March 9

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Christie and I are homebound. I, a writer of poetry and prose, am bound to Mersea, a simple white Victorian, nestled in the historic district of a southern shrimping village. She is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse build by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Christie and I are writing letters, she beneath the hemlocks and maples and I beneath the pines and pecans. We reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them.

Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss and restoration.

Welcome to my third letter in the series. To read Christie’s previous letters and more of her beautiful words go to her web site, found here. To read all the letters in the Homebound Collection, visit the tab at the top of my home page, entitled The Homebound Letters.

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March 9, 2017

(From home after being away)

Dear Christie:

The brown leather sofa in the parlor is holding me with a familiar leather scented embrace. A cool night has left the house chilled, but I am warmed by both blanket and puppy. What an apt name my husband has given our sweet English Cocker whose name is Sweet. She chooses to stay by my side as I write, apparently my absence was noticed as she leans in especially close this sunny morning. Perhaps she missed me, as I missed all things familiar, all things home.

Christie, as you know I accompanied my friend to Boston for a trip to Mass General Hospital. We left on a Tuesday, returned on a Wednesday and I am back to my beloved writing on a Thursday. I am viewing home now with the lens of leaving. Leaving and returning bring many gifts, one is a newly framed perspective. I like the frame. It focuses me, like the European silver with a bit of patina that I chose to frame my son’s portrait here at Mersea.

Perhaps leaving reawakens all the senses and plants tiny seeds from the experiences within us. What seeds have I brought back which I will need to tend to and water? How will I grow because of where I have gone?

I imagine we are all being renewed daily. During this Lenten season perhaps I am more keenly aware of renewal. It feels more present and sacred this year. I long for it more deeply, and am even slowly chasing after it. Somehow I feel we are beginning to meet, change and I. She is gentle. And she is patient and willing to wait for me even as I must wait on the minute radish seeds in our garden to grow into edible radishes. I must wait for the natural process of seeds transforming into bulbous red radishes.

But it is worth the wait. For I will slice the radish thinly, place it on a thick slice of grain toast with avocado, arugula and fried egg like the one I sampled in Boston. And it will be good. A simple good that comes along as gift. Why is it that I want to slice the radish thinly so that it becomes translucent, nearly transparent? Are we called too to be transparent like the cut radish?

When I was in Boston, I tried to make it my temporary home. To be rooted there for but a blink. Graciously Boston gave good gifts. The signs along Charles Street provided a curated display of simple art. Each one, uniquely designed and hung with care outside of the shops spoke to pride of place. I walked at a snail’s pace along the bumpy and worn brick sidewalk, looking up and studying the design of each shop keeper’s home.

Rich conversation was a by product of this long journey for a bittersweet visit. The seventh floor of Mass General held both sorrow and joy. During one of our talks, my wise friend reminded me that joy and sorrow can and do coexist. We can celebrate the miracle, slivers and slices and servings of joy even while grief, sorrow and sadness are present. What mystery there is in celebrating what they each bring.

Flying looks like a metaphor for our lives. The experience felt new as I hadn’t flown in a long forever. I have lost my wanderlust. Maybe I have found other things to replace it and it is not therefore a true loss. My desire to go faraway anymore has been mostly snuffed out.

But this was an invitation to go. I wonder about all I would have missed if I had said no. What a place of honor to travel as a companion and co-traveler with my beloved friend on her journey. I call her teacher too. We have much to learn from each other about loss, love and restoration. Christie, oh how I am enjoying your letters! And you too are teaching me about important things.

On this micro-journey, as in life, we experienced delay, turbulence and frustration. But there was joy too in seeing the unparalleled aesthetic beauty of the clouds. Their shape, color and mysterious movements, viewed from a plane window are spectacular. Childlike wonder sat with me. I thought I knew how to press into looking up at the clouds from my earthbound, rooted place. But glimpsing the cotton white masses moving against an azure blue backdrop at eye level reminded me there are new ways to see everything.

And there was joy in being, just being with a friend and meeting kind souls along the way, such as the world’s coolest Uber driver. The news was good in Boston and so we are full of rejoicing. Is this a preview of what is to come at Easter-time?  We are moving in that direction, the place of newness. I hope I am ready and that I am changed.

Today I will go to the tiny post office here in the village to mail some thank you notes. I wish I could box up and mail you a package of springtime. It would contain color and hope, buds and seeds, pieces of me and Mersea. My hope for you is that it will not delay, this true and fully fledged spring.

In time we will both celebrate its arrival. Spring will come for all of us. Newness and change are the sweetest of gifts. I hope I unfurl my clutched fists to receive it all. And to allow the gift of change in me.

Peace and grace to you,

Elizabeth
Mersea

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Hitting Close To Home: Preaching To The Choir

 

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This season of Lent is carrying me to the garden.
We walk together to the sermon by the lettuces.
(The royal we unless you count the coal black English Cocker puppy, faithful by my side)
The figs preach a brief homily as I pass by, one of unflinching hope. It is a taunting message. Their green shoots and leaves trajectory seems sure. June is a garden’s lifetime away and yet they already are. Mine own growth seems fifty fifty at best.
Yesterday’s sermon soaked me good. I can’t shake the message or the feeling of kneeling wobbly on a bed of sweet conviction.
Even the baby limes the size of a quarter of a cracked open pistachio whisper something new. They grow, slow and steady, without reciting the Ten Commandments, praying the Prayer of Confession or being drenched by a thirst quenching sermon that leaves you parched for change.

All creatures great and small  are headed toward re-birth. My own feels questionable, less certain. And the homestretch between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday feels inadequate for my growth.
Not enough time to pick up speed, bear something tangible, edible and fully formed.

The garden, seated behind the lectern listens well. Responds in love.
I want to be the zinnia seed, the radish seed, the one buried in a rich soil of nearer certainty. Of nearer my God to thee. Tucked into the bed by hands who know that giving up and letting go bring more life to life.
That poetry is best heard in the slowness.
And that beauty is tucked in the bed with the beets.

The garden raises its instruments of praise. And a sings an early Easter song of hope and grace. My song is not quite ready. My time has not yet come.

And I remain. Toes buried in the soil. Rooted at the foot of the Preacher. If only I could hear the words. Those written just for me. I seek to hear,  even to read the lips would suffice.

So I remain. Seated in the wooden pew. As close to the choir as I can get. Preparing with those who will sing an Easter hymn.

A hallelujah flowered song of praise, rising up in billowy breath from the mouth of the truly changed one.

 

 

 

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Homebound: From Mersea To Maplehurst, With Love (March Third)

Welcome to Letter Two in the Homebound epistolary journey. To read Letter One, simply visit the page tab indicated on the home page here, at Elizabeth W. Marshall to read each letter in the series.

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March 3, 2017

From the leather sofa, seated beside the wiggly English Cocker puppy named Sweet, in view of copious amounts of pansies.

Dear One:

I am still savoring the words tucked into your recent letter from Maplehurst. Since my last letter we have witnessed both an explosion of color from early spring growth and a re-visiting of what feels like winter creeping back in. The seasons are overlapping and colliding. March is known to come in like a proverbial lion, right? I am looking forward to the birth of the lamb.

The pink azalea bushes are blooming, the ones in the front yard by the sidewalk. They say Easter to me. They always will. I gave into the temptation to bring home pink geraniums. The color choice is always a bit difficult. How odd that we can get stuck on small seemingly inconsequential things like petal colors. Pink is prevalent in my yard this year; pink camellias are still blooming along with the geraniums, the cherry tree and the azaleas. It is a new birth color, full of hope and possibility. It may just be the color of joy too.

I monitor the arrival of spring by taking note of the cherry blossoms. They pop open by the dozens daily, it seems. A favorite, the lady banks rose is climbing up and into the cherry tree, making it appear to be a hybrid with its mix of yellow roses and pink cherry blossoms. No house or trellis is needed. The tree generously gives the rose a home. They seem to be co-existing well, making space for each other.

With so many glorious changes in the yard and even in our lettuce and herb garden, it is easy to be content with focusing on the natural beauty. For now. While the pace of renovation and change is slower than I’d like, I cannot help but be grateful for how far we have come. There is enough natural change to distract me from my desire to make physical and aesthetic changes to Mersea. (And by design, everytime I say Mersea, I am reminded to be grateful.)

I am tempted to shift my perspective back to what I do not yet have. I struggle to focus on what I long for and what I want. There is a tension between contentment and gratitude and longing and desire. Is it always that way in doing the work of restoration?

When the cherry tree blooms I am reminded of that spring we fell in love with this old home. The tree seemed to call to me to explore and consider, to take a second look at the possibilities. And to dream and imagine the potential of making this our home. Beauty beacons us to stop, to pay close attention. And when beauty appears by way of the trees, the limbs, like arms wave an invitation to come closer.

Your own floor restoration at Maplehurst reminds me of our periods of significant restoration. We cycle through periods of growth and change, an ebb and flow not unlike the tides here. Restoration and renovation will come again to Mersea by way of sanding the exterior, fresh paint and new Charleston green shutters. But for now we wait. Thought not always by my design or of my choosing, this slow process of transformation shapes and changes me. It is formative.

I lean into the sacred time of waiting. There is much to learn in listening well, looking closely and seeing well. It happens best when we slow down. Perhaps this Lenten season will be for me about intentionally trying to re-discover the sacred ordinary and savoring the small moments of my life.

Our next big project is to reglaze the windows. The windows are the original ones which means they were born around 1900. There are a few broken and cracked ones, but they are all a little foggy with age. When the reglazing is complete will the pinks seems pinker? How much will our vision change because we have something new and shiny? And how much will be reality, how much only perspective?

Until the big projects get underway, I remain content with small changes. When Daddy came for a visit last week, the first since Mother died earlier this year, I knew exactly what to do. He and I love to porch sit and bird watch together, so I poured my energy into a front porch spring makeover. Somehow, we focused less on our grief and more on the moment. Interesting how something rather small brought us so much joy. In smallness, that is where the joy seems to hide. Grief comes like the tide and like the changes at Mersea, ebbing and flowing. Is it that way by design? Is it more manageable that way, the grief. The pain. And the change.

While Daddy was here, the robins stopped by as they migrated north. Droves of them gathered in the backyard, fueling up for their long trip northward. I wonder what they will find when they arrive at Maplehurst. I grieve with you the thought of spring being snuffed out by the frigid cold air that is predicted to interrupt spring. I am hopeful that you will preserve your early spring beauty and that you too will find joy in the robins this year. There is an optimistic bounce in their step as they go in search of fuel for their journey.

The lady banks, the fruit trees and the robins, I am learning from each of them this year. And from you, my friend. You too, teach me so much.

Peace and grace and warmth as the Lion of March moves through,

Always,

Elizabeth
Mersea

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Visit Christie Purifoy at her blog, Christie Purifoy, A Spacious Place where you can read more or her lovely writing, and learn more about her recently published book “Roots and Sky”.

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