Peace & the Second Sunday in Advent

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. The four advent candles, for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, stand for hope, peace, joy and love. Every week in this season of waiting we light another candle. The world gets a little brighter and we think on these things: what it is to hope, what a hope of peace looks like, how it is to feel joy, and the great love we believe God showed us in becoming human to be one of us.

Candles & LEDS - the oldest and newest light sources
Candles & LEDS – the oldest and newest light sources

This weekend my family prepared ourselves for Christmas. We selected the tree. We brought down the boxes of ornaments. We hung one advent calendar and filled a second one with Hershey’s Kisses. We played The Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” and Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album. We told the children the stories of the ornaments as we hung them: the sad stories, the funny stories, the happy stories. We discussed optimal ornament hanging strategies, and enjoyed the new LED lights we got with purple instead of pink making the tree significantly less orangy this year than last year. We watched Scooby Doo in a fit of nostalgia brought on by Thane’s Scooby Doo ornament, and the children were shocked to discover that it is actually pretty good.

Decorator and decoratee
Decorator and decoratee

Our halls decked, Adam and I decamped to my holiday Christmas party where I got to sing on the stage at the House of Blues, which was something I didn’t know was on my bucket list until I was standing under the bright lights singing.

All dressed up with somewhere to go
All dressed up with somewhere to go

I love this time of year so much. And I think what I love most about it is that it’s a joyous contradiction. It’s the season of lights, but instead of bright 100 watt bulbs we light our homes with, with have tiny 13 lumen candleflames. It’s the season of warmth as we turn up collars and look to the first snow-commute-disaster of the year. (Tomorrow, according to one report I read!) It’s a time busy with parties and cookies and cards and caroling and…. but it’s also a time of year when we slow down a little. We sit a little and look at the lights. This year I’m feeling the magic of the season in full force. Perhaps it’s because this year for the first time my children are full collaborators in the creation and appreciation of the time apart. We shall see.

Peace is a rare commodity in this world. The world keeps throwing up sorrows. Just this week, one of my friends was dead for two hours when his heart stopped Thanksgiving night. And blocks from my work, in the blink of an eye sixty people became homeless as their Christmas trees went up in a grand conflagration. In Aleppo, the last voices of the crushed citizens are going silent. Where is the peace? And if I find it in the walls of my own house, with my family and my tree and my Christmas music, well… should I? What right do I have to peace when so many live without it?

But then we come back to that first candle. I still cannot believe that despite two hours without a pulse, my friend was saved. (He just posted a hilarious status update “In my defense, I was dead at the time.”) Through a miracle past knowing, no one was killed or seriously injured in a fire that called firefighters from 20 neighboring towns. There’s no silver lining for Aleppo, but there is a sliver of hope at Standing Rock, where the Army Corps has decided to find a safer route.

The peace we have comes from the hope, not from the existing perfection. And we look forward to joy – the rarest of emotions – and to love, the foundation stone for our lives.

High Pressure System

Somewhere on the drive between Stoneham and Meredith New Hampshire, the seasons changed. As I wrote last week, I’ve spent the last few months without once feeling cold outside. I brushed past my beloved bathrobe – my constant companion while at home – and wondered why I had such a useless thing the other day. As we laded the family vehicle of burden with the heavy gear of our adventuring (bikes dripping off the bag like wax from a candle) I felt the familiar prickle of sweat across the brow of my back.

But over the glow of the campfire, I felt compelled to add a flannel shirt. And then a hoodie sweater. And as we lay under the canopy of stars, seamed by the Milky Way, I remembered that I really should bring an additional blanket on this last camping trip of the year, and that I’d long contemplated upgrading our sleeping bags from “useless” to “slightly useful”. I shivered in the cold, and it was strange.

I’d thought that my family was working our usual camping-weather-magic. You know, the rain dance kind of magic. I sent a note out to my coworkers promising a cessation in the drought, based on past successes there. The prediction that Hermine would land just about the time we’d be wrapping up led to a conclusion that maybe we should wrap up ever so slightly earlier, so we wouldn’t have to put away a wet tent. But I felt good – nay, noble! – in bringing the rains to our parched land.

(Aside: I’m coming to see a drought drought as being very similar to a romantic drought. The more desperate you are, the less likely you are to get lucky. Apparently our ground is so dry it just tears apart rain storms for the water before they can even form.)

***Now, let us take a break to comfort a terrified child who hears horrors lurking in the wind. I laid myself next to him and turned on a Youtube video of sleep hypnosis. I think you should all be extremely impressed that I made it back to my keyboard to finish my blog post.***

But, the rains have not come. The high pressure which has lurked over the northlands these last few months is fending off a determined attack from the warm waters of the south. These storms birthed in the womb of the Sahara, nurtured over the Atlantic crossing, trained in the placid waters of the Caribbean have had their attack shunted aside by the shield of warm, dry air that hovers protectively above us. There was no rain last night. There are great gusty sighing winds tonight, with spatters of rain. But there are not the pelting sheets of water that wash away the slough of Summer and turn roads into temporary rivers.

Still, it feels good to feel the pressure drop. We humans are far less attuned than our animal brethren to such things, but I think we still know when storms are coming on a physical level. The drop in barometry has always felt uncanny to me. I (as you may have noticed) get poetical. (My terrified son just called my sensible. He meant it as a compliment. But I am not so sure that I am always sensible. I am not so sure I wish to be sensible.) The winds feel wild and my heart rides on their wings. The autumn is coming. I’ve always been able to feel closer to my truer self in the clearness of autumn. And I can reach past sensibility in an autumn storm.

Outside my window, something rubs. There is a creaking complaint against the wind. The “sensible” homeowner in me (who has a litany of complaints, at the moment) does not believe that the scraping is either part of my house or in a tree that has reach enough to touch my house. It is a dry and whiny sound, like the last remembrance of superstition. I won’t be surprised to find a branch down in the morning, and that complaining screed forever silenced.

We are not the same, after storms. Even after storms that deal us only glancing blows, turned aside by the armor of our pressure. For many, this is no metaphor but instead tragedy. For others, it is a chance for us to escape, however briefly, from the ridge of high pressure that locks us in the clear-skied and consistent heat to a wild moment of low pressure.

A dry, hot summer

Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color - no filter.
Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color – no filter.

I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I was just home, and reveled in the depths of the blues and greens and whites of my mountain home. August adds a fourth color – the lions-mane gold of the grass fields baking in the summer sun.

The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.
The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.

But August in the Northwest is brief, and so much of the rest of the year I was trained to expect the muted grays and greens that are so much a signature of the region. You can go weeks with a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier, and never once see it through the clouds. I grew up with both times to go outside and venture down towards the creek to the remnants of a former era, and to plan to hole up in my room with a good novel and a steady rain tapping on my roof and walls. And the balance of my life tipped more towards novel-reading than train-track-travels.

I still look to rainy days as times of rest and contemplation. They’re times to shut off the extrovert and welcome the introvert. I crave that time to read, to think, to contemplate poetry, and to feel deeply. I spend my whole life talking and acting. I need time to listen and think. And I need rain to do so properly. (Although snow will do in a pinch, and fog can also fill in.)

But it hasn’t rained. This summer has stretched out hot and humid and gloriously summery. Night after night has been punctuated by the whir of the AC drowning out the sound of the crickets. The skies have gone overcast, but the rain has passed us by. In fact, my corner of the state is in an extreme drought – the penultimate level before you get classified as an exceptional drought. Trees are dying. Plants are withering. Grasses have gone sere. The land is baking under the heat.

The dying forests of California
The dying forests of California

And it’s not just Massachusetts. I went to California this spring – in what was supposed to be an El Nino deluge. I was shocked at what I saw. The air in the Central Valley was thick as sin and hung darkly over the even rows of orange trees. As I climbed up out of the groves to the woodlands, the trees stood stark orange corpses. The drought had claimed them, and was growing. The paths that should have been impassible with snow stood wide open in late February, up in the heights of the Sierra Nevadas.

Finally, I went home to Washington. The Evergreen State still surely holds it’s name. But drought was being felt there too. The burn bans were on. The firefighters were tense, waiting for the spark to begin their fighting once again. Even the lush lands of my youth are dry.

Then, down south, the word came that floods, unheralded by named storm, had swept over the same battered folk who had suffered in Katrina were being drowned again in the relentlessness of the water.

I feel the wrongness of the lack of rain in my own home, and where I grew up. I’m sure those down south are looking at their lands and wondering where the line is between land and water after all.

Humans have always felt powerless against the weather. It’s always been one of those factors outside our control – almost reassuringly so. I wonder if that’s not really at the root of why we have done nothing in the 30 years since we were told that our actions would change the weather. Perhaps we didn’t believe we really could change the weather? Perhaps we saw our actions as immutable as a rolling storm – nothing we ourselves could stand against. I understand, somewhat, why the world hasn’t come together to prevent our actions from changing the face of the world.

A dramatic representation of how normal has changed

But what I don’t understand is why we haven’t prepared for the change we know was coming. What do we need to do differently as the sea levels rise? Which cities need to be abandoned, or protected? What steps have we taken to resettle the inhabitants? What seawalls built? I’m frankly gobsmacked that massive new development has been done just bare feet above sea level, on fill, in the Seaport District of Boston. I’m not entirely sure all those buildings will even be finished before they’re swamped. Those future residents will at some point have a nasty surprise, but we pretend like that’s an unknowable future instead of the near-certainty it is. We know it will happen. We even have a good idea of when. We just want to pretend it won’t.

I desperately wish I know what I could do to fight this. The voices that have been raised to warn have been laughed down, and beaten down over decades. The small economies of a single household pale by comparison the the vast wastefulness practiced by others. Keeping the thermostat at 68 in the winter means literally nothing – taken by itself. I wish that I had solutions for this problem, like I wish I had for so many others.

But I will say this – do not be surprised. Our world is changing. The Northwest Passage has been created by melting ice. The seawaters are rising. The rains fall more in some places, less in others. If you will not work to prevent it – and we have not – then we must work to live in the new world we have created.

And every hot day without rain just reminds me of it.

Timon of Athens and the Happiness Exchange Rate

I mentioned earlier that the book “The Last Safe Investment” had raised two interesting thoughts (which is two more than is standard from that kind of book). I explored the idea of “Tribe” in my earlier post about how Stoneham is coming together to help a kid with autism stay safe. (Three weeks until the big day! Buy your tickets now, or donate online!)

The second interesting idea had to do with “the Happiness Exchange Rate”. The idea is this. Past meeting all your basic needs, the purpose of money is usually to make you happy. (There are plenty of exceptions.) But we don’t always think very carefully about the happiness per dollar ratio we’re getting. For example, a new car would make me happy. I don’t need one – both of my cars run fine and get the job done, but especially the older one is getting a bit junky. A Saturday morning sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed and reading a novel would also make me happy. One of these things costs $25k (minimum). One of these things might set me back $10 in the worst case scenario for the novel.

Would the new car make me four orders of magnitude happier than the lazy Saturday morning? Would it make me two thousdand five hundred times happier than that novel? If we factor in the obnoxiousness of having to deal with a car salesman, I think that on the whole I’d be LESS happy with the car than with the caffeinated novel consumption. So the amount of $$$ it takes for a unit of happiness is much lower for the novel than for the car.

The authors make the point, however, that we’re really bad about judging how these things stack up against each other. They tell the story of someone who spent $200k on a bottle of wine, and described the experience as “nice”. Give me a $10 bottle of wine and great friends over a $200 bottle of wine any day of the week!

These ideas of friendship and money (and using money to obtain friendship) were one of the great themes of Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”, which we just saw in Ashland. (A trip that was, I think, an excellent investment per unit of happiness.). For those unfamiliar with the work, Timon was a leader of Athens and a purveyor of the best parties. He’d host his friends. He’d wine and dine them and give them rich gifts. He’d bail them out if they ever needed bailing out. The money flowed from his hands to his friends in an unending torrent.

Or almost unending. Athenian – and Elizabethan – economics are very similar to ours. If you spend more than you earn, you eventually run out of cash.

Timon assumed that his great generosity had bought him true friends, who would be as generous with him as he had been with them. When his messengers knocked on their doors, however, they were turned away with feeble excuses. The giving was a one way street.

The entire second act takes place on a rubbish pile while Timon rails at his erstwhile friends, names himself Misanthropous (hater of humans), and provides an army of invading Athenian soldiers (also rejected by an ungrateful Athens) the funds* with which to sack and raze the city, before he commits suicide.

Methinks that either Shakespeare (or his co-author Christopher Marley) may have had an experience that stung, somewhat. I suspect that one or more persons in the audience were red-faced at the incredible ingratitude on display.

One could definitely argue that the happiness exchange rate of Timon’s gifts was… poor. What he thought he was getting with his money was not in fact what he got.

Our vacation was rather indulgent. We ate some great meals, saw five great plays (“Great Expectations”, “A Winter’s Tale”, “Timon of Athens”, “Yeoman of the Guard” and a riotous “Twelfth Night”), spent some time at a great spa and got a lovely piece of jewelry for our anniversary. Having this sendup of spending in the middle of our indulgent vacation was both a timely reminder to remain moderate, and an interesting juxtoposition.

I think it’s worth thinking carefully about where our spending is habitual, where it FEELS like it will make us happy, and what actually makes us happy. Feasting my friends at my house makes me happy – although I don’t do so thinking that doing so “earns” me anything from them past perhaps their friendship. Hiking and camping make me really happy. Reading makes me happy, especially in cozy situations like around campfires or in cafes. Writing makes me happy. Playing board games makes me happy. I love singing. I confess to digging hanging around with my friends and maybe a glass of wine. For the most part, these are moderately priced things with great happiness exchange rates.

I really don’t want or need a fancy car (although as some point I’ll probably need a new car). I take no pleasure in expensive clothes. (They just worry me, since I’m guaranteed to spill something on them.) 70% of the time, I’m disappointed when I eat out. (I could make it better, the restaurants are too loud, they make me wait too long.) My tastes in wine or drink are moderate. Spending a lot on high quality options doesn’t make me enjoy them more. I should do less of these things, or avoid them altogether, since the happiness exchange rate is poor.

The book inspired me and the play reminded me nourish and flourish the activities that make me happy with a great exchange rate, and despite seeming like I “should” like other expensive things, to question whether they make me happier than other cheaper (and healthier?) options.

Does this concept ring true? What are some of your excellent happiness ROI activities? What things have you tried that have just turned out to be a waste of money? And what are the very expensive things that are totally worth it to you anyway?

*Which he ironically finds buried under the refuse heap where he’s sleeping.

Tribe

I recently read a book called “The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever” (by Bryan Franklin and Michael Ellsberg). The authors came and spoke at my place of work about their theses – and we had time for questions and answers.

The book had two interesting concepts in it, for thinking about. The first was about Happiness Exchange Rate. In my perfect world, I’d write a blog post dedicated to my thoughts on that topic, so I won’t go into more detail here. (In the actual world, you should probably just read the book to find out for yourself, because intended blog posts are a loooooong way away from reality.)

The second interesting concept was Tribe, and how a Tribe both helped you get money (which you could use to make yourself happy), it also just plain makes yourself happy.

This was a weekend for Tribe.

A small part of my tribe
A small part of my tribe

There are few things that make me feel richer than dwelling on my friends. This weekend, we held the first annual “Flynn’s Fiery Feast” – to provide that critical third gathering between Piemas and Mocksgiving. For those who don’t follow me regularly, those are two “made up” holidays in November and March where 30-40 grownups and associated children get together and eat a lot and play board games and enjoy each other’s company. The people represented are a venn diagram of several social circles: college friends, gaming friends, internet friends, church friends, family, neighbors and a small handful of coworkers. (It’s also fewer people than I’d like to invite, but after about 50 humans in it, my house is just too small to add more. Don’t think because you’re not at that party we aren’t friends – we are – the parties just can’t get much bigger.)

We laughed and joked and caught up and ate and played board games and sat around the fire and had an awesome time. I felt like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in his gigantic pool of gold, surrounded by a real wealth of love and warm feelings. And then my friends helped clean up before they left. Seriously, people. It doesn’t get better than that.

Bryan and Michael say in there book that a Tribe is key to wealth – not only because it gives you the happiness that you’re theoretically trying to get enough money to have, but because it can help you in a thousand practical ways. And I’ve seen that play out for myself. Perhaps the tightest Tribe in my diagram is a group of moms who get together about once a month, and chat often on Facebook. This group of ladies is mostly just for fun. We do talk about parenting books, and exchange ideas about how to make our lives and the lives of others better. We support each other in fitness, borrow each other’s steam cleaners and babysitters, and know we can put out an all-call for whether someone has condensed milk handy (so we don’t have to go to a store and interrupt our baking).

Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt
Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt

But we also provide a backstop for each other whose depth may appear hidden. One of our moms’ husband was in a near-fatal car accident. For a few weeks, we delivered home made, love-stuffed meals and snacks. As you read about last week, one of our moms needs to raise $15,000 to get her son a service dog. The fundraiser is being led by the other moms, bringing together pretty amazing skills and collaboration. For a few months our regular chat is being replaced by party planning, and no one has said anything but “how can I help”? It’s this amazing sense of knowing that someone has your back (especially with little family in the area), to have a group of people like this.

Bryan and Michael describe a Tribe this way, “Tribe is simply a networked group of friends bound by their caring for one another and for a similar aesthetic for life. But when a group of friends become networked – when each knows the other – something else, not available from simple friendship, emerges.” (The Last Safe Investment, Franklin & Ellsberg, p. 277) They talk a lot about how important it is that the relationships are not “hub and spokes”, but a matrix of connections. They talk about how key shared values are to a tribe. And they go WAY FURTHER from my happy groups of friends to actual communal living.

They also have a Silicon Valley-esque focus on entrepreneurship. I asked when they gave their talk if this sort of group of people wouldn’t have the effect of compounding inequality. (Rich people with rich friends would be richer. Poor people with poor friends would not.) They assured me their Tribe cut across income. (In retrospect, however, I’m curious if it cuts across class. I wonder what degree of disparity in educational attainment and opportunity a Silicon-Valley-based-tribe actually has. Not, mind, that my Tribes are that much more class diverse.) They also talk a lot about how creating repeated opportunities for people to come together can create Tribe. (Which was actually my proximate cause for finally getting around to scheduling the long-contemplated third holiday.)

Coming out of the book talk, I started chatting with my coworkers about the topic, and realized something.

Quick: describe a group of people who have relationships with each other (not around a central figure), who come together very regularly, who cut across generational & class lines, who support each other, and who have strong shared values.

Does that ring a bell?

I realized, in that conversation, that the Tribe is the Church. That hole left in society when people walked away from both theology and communal worship is a gaping one, and it needs to be filled. It makes sense that groups and ideas like this one would be developed to plug the gap. But I also think that maybe churches need to see themselves a bit more like Tribes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves as a group of people who come together because of shared values to support (and enjoy) each other, and then to turn our collective will towards service towards each other and the world? When we say “my Church” – how many of us imagine the building? The steeple and communion table and pews? Instead, it would be awesome if we thought of that great cloud of friends we have in the church. Take Jesus and the disciples – there was a Tribe to be reckoned with. (And they didn’t even have a building!) The early church actually did take it all the way to communal living. I think that as a congregation we can aspire to that same sense of joyful security that I get when I think of my friends.


Do you have a tribe? Who do you lean on in times of trouble? What do you do to build up your connections? I’d love to hear how this concept looks from your point of view!

6 reasons I like Sportsball

Among the people I spend time with, referring to a game is as likely to be about 7 Wonders or Fate as it is to be about baseball, or basketball. In fact, depending on the precise people, it’s considerably more likely. During March Madness, all my office could talk about was Google’s AI going 4 of 5 against a Go champion. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances of mine disparagingly (or bemusedly) refer to whatever big sporting event that’s going on as sportsball, they seem so indistinguishable.

I’m not an obvious target for breaking from this culture, and liking sports. My favorite kinds of music are mid-century American folk, pre-baroque early music, and opera. I read science fiction and fantasy primarily. I have a 15 year career in software. I got my degree in medieval studies. This is not a profile that screams “I can correctly identify offsides before I see the flag go up”.*

But here it is, Sunday night. Game of Thrones is on, but I’m 100% tuned in to the Copa America finals, really hoping to see Lionel Messi do to Chile what he did to the US in the semis. I’ve loved the summer of soccer, although I admittedly only really watch the international tournaments. I listen to or watch at least parts of probably 80 baseball games a year. For the last several years, I’ve watched almost every Pats** game, and as many Seahawks games as I could catch. And it’s not because I love my husband who loves sports. In fact, he doesn’t like anything but soccer. He calls the baseball broadcasts “the voices in my head” and only goes to a game in person because he likes the hot dogs.

So why do I like sports? What makes it worth spending two or three hours on the couch?

1) You can connect with so many people
I started my sports interest in 1995, with the amazing Seattle Mariners team. Everyone around me was talking about the Mariners. Very few people were interested in talking about Seattle Opera’s superb staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is what I was excited about that summer. As a supercilious 16 year old, I did of course feel superiorly artistic. But also a bit lonely. At some point, I decided I would open-mindedly investigate this whole “baseball” thing to see what it was all about. And it was amazing! Suddenly, these people with whom I felt like I had nothing in common became friends. I could say, “Did you catch the game last night?” and then we could talk about the game last night. It opened up this huge point of connection, which was my primary goal. It was almost heady, how being interested in what other people were interested in made them more likely to talk to me… or even to like me.

2) It turns out sports are interesting
Chances are good you have one of two reactions to that statement.

    a) Well duh
    b) I doubt it

But the reason that millions of people spend time, money, energy, passion and attention on sports is because they’re fascinating. I think of them like the best poetry. The form is known – like a sonnet. You know that a sonnet will be ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You know the form so well you don’t even have to think about it. But like poetry, each expression of that form is profoundly unique. All the best sports have uncertain outcomes. The only way to know what will happen is to watch the game, even if probabilities and prognostication seem to point to certainty. It’s like poetry of human accomplishment, in opposition to other striving humans, written out for you in real time.

3) You get to feel strong, conclusive feelings
You can be dumped in the pit of despair, but no one actually died. You can exult in the height of exultation. (But you did not actually win the lottery.) You can have aching, edge-of-seat uncertainty for an hour or two, when you wonder if you have any underlying heart conditions. That uncertainty is always resolved at the end. Most entertainment is designed to help us feel things we don’t usually get to feel (and often don’t want to feel) in the day to day course of our lives. Movies make us feel, love, admiration, fear, joy, terror and disgust. Sports can do the same, but in a way that seems less scripted or constructed. We do not feel those emotions on behalf of others, but rather for our own selves, and in community with those around us. No one knows ahead of time which feelings they’ll feel. That’s a powerful catharsis, with a firm and absolute ending point.

4) You join the shared memory
We’ve had to redefine communal memory several times in the last few generations. For the generation prior, it was the shared tv shows on the few networks. Before that, the radio shows. Before that, it was likely more fragmented with stories being told in communities about those communities, that people would share and retell across time with other people who remembered them as well. In an increasingly fragmented world, where we have neither shared history nor shared media, the biggest sporting events are something of a touchpoint. In Boston, “Where were you when the Sox won the World Series?” is likely to get as many stories (well rehearsed, usually) as the still-annual “Where were you when the towers fell?” They make you feel like you belong.

5) It provides a brief break from reality
Do you know what word WASN’T spoken during the broadcast tonight? Brexit. I work hard to stay well informed. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of news. But sometimes I like to have media that allows me to dip in and out (so not a gripping novel), that involves people talking, and that isn’t as depressing as the Dead Sea.

6) Legitimate excuse to sit on the couch
Maybe this is just me, but if I can do something “later” I often don’t do it “at all”. But with sporting events, it’s really really best if you watch it when it’s live. And that means I get to sit still and relax. I don’t live a life conducive to relaxing. If I wasn’t watching the Copa America*** tonight I probably would’ve done the dishes, worked on the attic project, cleaned the living room and then fallen into bed exhausted. Instead, I got to sit with a friend on the couch with no demands. It was brilliant.


What about you? Do you love some sports? All sports? No sports? Do you think sports are silly? Do you follow them passionately? Have you learned over time to see the point in them?

*New skill. Won’t lie. I just figured that one out this summer.
**Having acquired the skills and background in just the last few years to find American Football really interesting, I have decided it’s not a sport I can feel really good about watching. The recent findings about the way football destroys both mind and body of so many of the players makes it feel too much like a blood sport – like I’m a Roman in the coliseum. I’ll still come watch with you if you invite me (and I’ll probably enjoy it), but I decided to take it off my calendar as an event I’ll pursue of my own interests.
***I still can’t BELIEVE that ending!

Charlestown End – The Old Burying Ground

Jacob Gould's Grave
Jacob Gould’s Grave

The Old Burying Ground in Stoneham was opened to visitors today. For years it’s been opened on Halloween weekend – at the exact same time as the town trick or treating. So I haven’t been able to go. But I’ve been falling in with the historical crowd lately, and they realized that we parents love history as much as our kids love candy and were awesome to set up this great second session this year.

Familiar faces
Familiar faces

My trip to the Burying Ground this last Halloween kicked off an extremely fun month for me. I was doing Nanowrimo with a friend. I saw this amazing tombstone with its rich old story of Jacob Gould “barbarously murdered by ruffians in his own dwelling” and I looked it up on Google. Google books led me to more of the story in Silas Dean’s gossipy 1843 history of Stoneham (which is right there an argument on how awesome the internet can be!) and I went down a monthlong rabbit hole of local history and lore while I wrote a werewolf book about the strange misadventures. I had an absolute blast, although I sadly have not finished the book.

I did learn what they found when they opened the three crypts. New life goal: be there when they open one of the three crypts.

Rare to get a government tombstone for a nurse
Rare to get a government tombstone for a nurse

They had three reenactors there, all of whom were excellent. One played the role of a Civil War nurse (who apparently had to be older than 30, of high moral standing, and rather plain). She told the story of how Hannah was buried in sight of the house she’d grown up with, across the alley on Oriental Avenue. And I stood there, in ground set aside at the turn of the 19th century where were buried Revolutionary War heroes, slaves, native Americans and pilgrim-folk and I thought about what it is to be at home.

He could have seen Shakespeare's plays as a young man.
He could have seen Shakespeare’s plays as a young man.

Many of the people lying there were not Stoneham born. They came from England, Wales, Africa… or as far as from Maine or Connecticut. They came to a frontier town, or a sleepy bywater. They came to a new place and built a place for themselves there. When they died they consigned their remembrances to the uneven soils of this burying ground. Hundreds of years later, we walk by twice a year to greet them. And where they were strangers to me last October, as May came I greeted them instead as friends.

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier

My heart has long lain in the rugged stark mountains of the West. It’s a land that feels as though history lies lightly upon it. The stories of the people who first lived there have never been told to me. The stories of my people are short – the town I grew up in is just over 100 years old. There are residents who remember the first people there. But for most of my life, I’ve been FROM Washington.

I think that may begin to be changing. I’ve lived in New England 20 years. Sixteen of those have been in Massachusetts, and eight of THOSE in Stoneham. How can I turn my back on Deacon Silas Dean, Jacob and Polly Gould, Benjamin Gerry, Elizur Wright, Parker G. Webber and the cast of folks – brave, strong, moral, funny and complicated who have also moved here from elsewhere, and made it their home? Fortunately, the question of home is not one you have to put exactly one answer to on a form. We may come from many places. But as I learn more here, meet more friends, run into more people at the store, and walk even the graveyards with familiarity, I find myself more and more at home.

This creepy cherub is totally judging me.
This creepy cherub is totally judging me.

Enjoy all my pictures from the day at the graveyard!