A new work of art and a poem. Blessings on your day.
On This Late Summer Morn
On this late summer morn,
She sits where mind rests, prayers flow.
Wonder at the world of blame
Brings her head to bow.
On this late summer morn,
The sky dark from falling ash,
Our lungs fill, the sun remains
Hidden. Even he fears the heat.
On this late summer morn,
Thousands fleeing a war-torn country,
Our hearts fill, the moon remains
Hidden. Even she cries with the knowledge.
On this late summer morn,
Delta dead are piled into trucks,
Our minds fill, the stars remain
Hidden. Even they wonder at the folly of it all.
On this late summer morn,
She recognizes all that is sacred,
Sees the beauty in all creatures, all life,
Her heart opens with the embracing of it all.
In late July, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a professional photographer friend, Rolf, showed me his prints of chickens he had been hired to photograph. They were enchanting in various poses, with attitude and humor. With names like Walnut, Hi Tops, Peppercorn, Darth, and Cruella de Vil, they made me smile, laugh, and feel inspired to do what I have wanted to do for some time, paint a chicken.
I have been working on a series of paintings since early 2020 under the title “One World”. They bring me into the world with a broader lens of seeing what makes us one, interconnects us, and seeks that which is similar in our lives rather than opposing. It is inner work for me that seeks to find expression on canvas. Painting a chicken, however, is pure play and delight, loosing myself in a different way with a variety of connections.
The chicken I painted was one we met on the Island of Kauai. Many hens and roosters run wild there and on the Big Island of Hawaii. Then, I thought of the chicken I met in Waikoloa on the Big Island as I sat at a favorite outdoor café eating my breakfast and listening to an elderly native Hawaiian playing his guitar and singing Hawaiian songs. I was transported in those moments feeling the rhythm of the music and allowing the words to float through me, all with a smile as I watched a golden-brown chicken roaming nearby.
While painting, I thought of my grandma Regina who with her husband Adolph and 6 children bought and moved to a farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After the sudden death of Adolph to heart attack, Regina and the six children needed to survive. Grandma had her chickens. It had been a barely break-even farm except for the chickens. The three oldest went off to War sending grandma money to help support her and the three youngest but it was the chickens that kept them going for many years until the youngest left and she moved into town. She loved her chickens, and they were an integral part of her life.
I recently learned of and visited a fundraiser for the farm of a young family who have dedicated themselves to the rescue and healing of abandoned roosters. They along with many other of that generation are dedicated to all animals and their humane treatment. They represent our future of treating all in this world with respect and care. As foreign as the concept of a rescue for roosters, I could not help admiring their dedication and finding their way of bringing healing into the world.
A neighbor about a half mile down our road decided to raise chickens in his yard. I would chuckle on my morning walk as I passed his house with the rooster cock a doodle doo-ing and the owner coming out for work shushing and scolding them for making so much noise and admonishing them to stay in their fenced area and be good.
Yesterday, as I sat in my stylist’s chair, she told me her mother decided to buy 50 chickens and a few turkeys. My stylist has been the main caretaker for this brood. She offered that she was very attached to the roosters. One of the roosters found where she lives on the larger property and comes every morning to her door with a wakeup call. She had heard that turkeys could be a bit mean so she raised them by sitting with them, talking to them, holding, and petting them. They are now attached to her.
We get our eggs from an Amish family who live north of us and who deliver them to our local coop. We support them in our purchase and hope they can continue in their humane care of their chickens and the sharing of the brown eggs with a rich golden yoke
For some the chicken has meant survival, others health, and for another healing. For some the chicken represents our inhumane treatment of all animals as we eat them and their eggs. But within our differences, in these days of world turmoil, the chicken brings us back to this moment, the earth, the place where we connect and ground ourselves. For Regina, taking to her bed for three days after the loss of Adolph, the care of her kids and her chickens woke her up to this moment and the chickens kept her going, one moment after one moment. As I continue to explore “one world”, I find that the chicken is never outside of that circle. I think there are a few more chicken paintings in my future.
One hundred of us stand or sit.
Tables with water, breezes bringing
Coolness to our sweat drained bodies.
Our attention focuses as one man’s life
captures our imagination. Memories
of kindness, cello, trees, choir, painting.
Our hearts hear the message, feel the
pull to not leave this earth without living.
Create while we birth, work, love.
Long time friends, spouse, children, family
saying goodbye to one who has left
his mark in all who stand at his earthen home.
My gaze moves to all that surrounds me,
cool, calm water, lilies, phlox
blooming in this late July heat.
Soil dried from lack of rain; flowers laced
when placed at his side; ashes leaning toward earth.
A haze of smoke from distant wildfires fills our nostrils.
We laugh, we celebrate, we feel gratitude
in our current moment of living. We ponder
death and share from this truth.
In loss we feel love. In dryness we experience moisture.
In memory we experience renewed spirit.
In death we are pulled to the living.
As I wrote in my last posting, I have been making some decisions regarding offering myself once again as a spiritual companion and grief counselor.
After my formal retirement as a Grief Counselor for Allina Hospice, I traveled with Leo for a year enjoying many new explorations, foods, people, and lands. Then in 2020, we entered covid land and I took on many projects in the home, ones that had been queuing up for years. These activities were refreshing and gave me a much needed break from the long accumulation of grief stories as well as time to look back to honor and celebrate the many years of my life through photos and the writing of my life stories.
During these past couple of years, I was asked to offer a grief education and retreat day for the students at Sacred Ground, a Spiritual Direction training center in St. Paul. This one was followed by another and then a private request came for some time with me as a Spiritual Companion. Through these offerings, I was reminded of my love of one to one work and group work that allows me to be of service to others as well as nourish my soul. When I began to wonder where I could give of myself in the community, the answer was to keep giving as I have over the past 30+ years.
I now feel I am ready to once again offer myself to others for support. I will be making myself available, one or two days per week, while honoring my needs for flexibility, travel, and creative endeavors. If you are curious you can click on my new page titled Spiritual Companion/Grief Counseling.
The words, “go with the flow” seem to best describe my desire to follow where I am being led. Change takes us where it will. We can fight it or we can flow with it. Like water in the river we will get buffeted at times, our very presence will change the landscape, we will have times when we feel as if we are floating on our backs in a summer afternoon, and at other times we fear we will never touch the bottom. The following quote by Bruce Lee brings us to this place of letting go. Of being one with. Of being the blessing.
Be Water, My Friend.
Empty your Mind.
Be Formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.
Over the thirty plus years I have supported individuals in loss, I have had moments of feeling filled to the brim with grief stories. In those moments, I fantasized about being of service in a different way, through things like selling flowers or opening a store focused on selling art and craft objects. Both fantasies involved a storefront, a product, a customer who was searching for beauty, who smiled when she/he found what they were looking for and would walk away feeling like they had removed themselves from whatever life was surrounding them, having enjoyed a few moments lost in scent, beauty, and inner peace. Instead of realizing that fantasy, I would take a few days off from work, refresh myself, attend to my own losses, and then re-enter feeling more able to be present to another’s grief.
After being retired for two years, I have been thinking of making myself available to individuals who need a place to sort through their spiritual and emotional experiences. How that would happen and when is a story for my next blog. Ironically, just as I made my final decision to put myself out there, my daughter needed help working her food truck, Icy Icy Shave Ice, at a four-day dog show up here in Cambridge. Two of our grandkids whom she employs were out of town on a vacation trip and that left only her 14-year-old son, plus training in a couple of his teen friends.
I was a bit apprehensive at first as I don’t handle heat and humidity well and we have had both in the extreme. It was a blast. Our daughter guided me and trained me in. At times I took orders and money, other times I ran the ice shaver, poured the syrups, and then the final topping with a napkin and a spoon before handing it all off to the customer with a smile, a thank you with a wish for a good day. At the end of the weekend, I was exhausted but would not trade it for anything. How many in their 7th decade get to work a food truck? I am thrilled I had the opportunity.
It has all brought me back to my 15–16-year-old self, shy, with a first job at Altenburg’s Dairy in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. I worked the front counter while the ice cream was made in the back. I was self-conscious, afraid of making a mistake, and not getting the order to the customer fast enough. I remember the kindness of the customers as they watched me work. One gentleman gently encouraging me to slow down as no one was in a hurry. Helping me learn how to work with taking my time and paying attention.
Over these last four days of working in heat, humidity, and bouts of rain, I was keenly aware of peoples need for refreshment. At first, they would arrive, tentative when ordering, asking which flavor, the decision of ice cream added or not, and questions of which Is the best flavor. Then as they watched the process and were handed their Icy through the last window, there would be a smile, at first for the beauty and then for the taste. It all gave an enormous sense of satisfaction as over the days we began to recognize people as they returned, bringing friends, ordering for others, smiling in anticipation when they ordered as they knew what was coming, and disappointment when they arrived and we were closing.
During these days, I was once again reminded of a woman who served me multiple times in her cafe in Santiago, Spain. The image is imprinted on my soul as I was moved by how she served us from the preparation at the counter, walking around the counter, then stopping before our table with a bow, a gentle “Gracias”, and offering us our tea or coffee individually in cupped hands. While it came to be expected, it was a sweet moment of blessing that I will not forget. I witnessed her kindness, attention to detail, and presence that made all the difference in our daily returning to her not only for her food but for her sense of being. Her offering was above and beyond the food I was paying for.
Back here at the dog show event, Murry was the newest 14-year-old teen friend to be trained in and was stationed at the final window. I watched as Murry instinctively took the bowl from the one pouring the syrup, set it carefully on the counter on a napkin he had placed before him, gently topped it with coconut whip cream and a fruit garnish, added a spoon, then with cupped hands around the bowl, bowed to the window and the customer as he handed it all off with a smile and a final, “Thank you”.
I have no doubt that these little acts of blessing were being felt and carried away by the customer with their Icy on their lips. It is joy for me to see my daughter’s business being run with the same attention to kindness and care that so deeply moved me in Spain. Making the syrups fresh with her own hands, conscious of sustainability in her paper products, caring about what the client orders as well as their satisfaction, assembling all with attention, and sending the individual or family off with a final bow, a heartfelt smile and a final, “Thank you!”
In the end, it is what we really offer when someone comes for grief counseling or for a tasty treat. It is in our intention, our presence, our desire for their happiness, and a moment of connection.
In my part of the world, we have been operating in relentless heat, mid-July steaminess which has shown itself in early June. Purple Iris stood tall and opened all in one day. A week later pink Peonies, the ones with the soft yellow center, stood tightly budded and then unfurled themselves in a day as if they were emerging from a long Covid winter ready to party. The next day they were spent, exhausted, and drooped in their last breath.
A friend and I escaped by driving an hour and a half north to the shores of Lake Superior to celebrate our birthdays. It felt like stretching our long unused wings with walks along the shore, watching a freighter from New York enter the harbor to unload their wares, dining in restaurants, sitting on the balcony and listening to the waves, and visiting shops opening to customers ready to see a new shiny object, piece of art, a new frock.
With too much isolation, too much heat, a plethora of bad news, the greater world still amid this pandemic, and continuing to be cautious even with vaccine on board, we run outside to laugh, scream, hug, and let ourselves breathe fully.
I recently joined a four-hour workshop to get my artist gears oiled and ready to paint the world again. I had felt rusty and lacking in confidence as Covid time had swept me into house projects, writing projects, and generally out of my normal routine. My vision has now shifted once again and I am looking at the world wondering, how do I capture that green, the lighthouse in the harbor, the softness of the clouds? It is joy to my heart.
We do not know what lies ahead. Each generation has endured times when we rely on hope in our uncertainty, grit to move through what we must, and determination to make it to a more forgiving tomorrow. As in any grief story, we cannot stay too long in the depths of the story. We need to take moments of joy as they come, laugh in the face of what seems absurd, run around the block when we have sat too long, and bring kindness into a cynical world.
The pink peonies, named Bowl of Beauty, were pushed to burst forth in the moment they were offered. I thank them for their fleeting wonder, now a memory that I draw forth at will with color and perfume fully alive within me.