Contentment is…

I’m sitting at home right now, listening to Kate Rusby. I am wearing my kitty cat pajamas (the non glow-in-the-dark set). I have a peach candle my husband gave me for Christmas burning on my desk. The snowflakes are falling thick and fast outside. I have a cup of coffee in front of me.

The only way it could be better was if my husband was at home to enjoy it with me.

I love being able to telecommute.

2004 Resolutions

Despite my deference to all of you who think that New Years resolutions are dumb, I have a pair. I do think that the new year — buffered as it is by time off — is a good time to consider what you have done with your life, and what you hope to be doing. In general, I’m pleased with my life. I love my husband more and more with each passing day. I actually really like my job (even though I’ll be working today, it’s at least my own call). I feel like I contribute to my world through my work at church. There’s nothing quite like feeling that I actually *do* have an impact on these kids, and that their experience of adolescence is different because I am here. I could be skinnier — but I’m not horribly obese. I have made concrete plans to do stuff I always wanted to do this year.

So my resolutions are small things, but things that have bothered me.

1) I hereby resolve to remember and celebrate the significant days of my friends and family with cards. I like sending cards. I like rubber stamping cards. I like staying in contact with the people I love. I have the organizational capacity to put these things all together. I will send people cards for their birthdays and anniversaries.

2) I hereby resolve to memorize one poem a month. Again, I have the capacity and the ability, I just need the determination and organization. I am planning, this weekend, to find the 12 poems I want to memorize for the year, and print them out, and put them in various places. I love having poetry memorized, and there is no reason I shouldn’t do mor eof it.

I have a vague recollection of a third resolution, but it must not be very important if I can’t remember it. And I don’t want to resolve to do stuff that I don’t find important to me.

A holy time of year

This morning, in the midst of my routine and sleepwalking life, was a truly unexpected moment. I was travelling my morning commute (the sans husband one, sadly). I was passing the Wyoming graveyard, which is large and low, and sometimes misty in the mornings. This morning it was pale in filtered morning sunlight, with iced-over snow between marble tombstones. I was passing between it’s high stone walls and a strip of houses backed between graveyard and gray cliff this morning, when I saw low movement. I braked, so as not to hit whatever it was. And there, 7 miles from the center of Boston, in the quiet urban landscape between rowhomes and tombstones, walked a red fox. His tail was bushy. He looked energetic and cheerful, crossing in front of me. Against the paleness of the morning, he was brightly and vividly red.

How does this fox come to find a home in the midst of thick habitations? Does he make his living on pets incautiously let outdoors? Is he on some journey, headed towards less and less hospitable lands? Why was I given to see him in this time between Solstice and Christmas?

There are rational answers for all, but I do not feel the siren call of rationality. To the opposite, right now I yearn for mystery and nature, the unknown and unknowable, for purpose and intent in the universe without my necessarily needing to know what that purpose is.

And today, this morning, I saw a red fox in the Wyoming graveyard, beshrouded in snow.

On how I affect others

Apologies ahead of time if this sounds conceited, self-centered etc. It is a self-realization, but a a self-realization about something that’s good about me, which I don’t feel nearly as comfortable talking about as my many flaws.

For those of you who know me in real life (and perhaps it even comes through on LJ), I’m a happy person. I tend to be cheerful, and I tend to enjoy my life. Not that I don’t complain as much as anyone, but all in all, I have always been on the positive edge of the emotional scale.

There are times, frequent times, where I hit my zone. It’s not that I’m necessarily ebullient — although I’m that often enough too — but that I am in my own skin and quietly joyous. I may be thinking about something else… the autumn colors, the coffee I’m about to buy, how much I like Garrison Keillor, how that was a pleasing church service, but I seem to radiate something.

Yesterday, after church, I was thinking about all those things, and I was obviously in my zone. I was whistling the PHC theme song “Oh hear that old piano, from down the avenue…” as I walked through the rain to Starbucks to get coffee. And I stopped a man dead in his tracks. He said, “You must be in a good mood.” (I get this a lot. In addition to questions — often vaguely suspicious — about why I smile so much.) As usually happens in these situations, I hadn’t really been thinking about my mood, but I realized he was right. I smiled, and I told him that it was a beautiful world. He sort of nodded his head, surprised, and agreed. I was even happier then when I realized I was happy, and sort of bounced through the store. He couldn’t take his eyes off me. He waved a shell-shocked goodbye as I left.

This particular phenomenon has happened to me more than once (and often in Starbucks — one barista actually bought me a bouquet of flowers after a day like this). And you know, I’m cute but not that cute. I don’t think it’s about how I look. And yesterday I realized what it was. A joyous person is incredibly attractive. When I am happy, and in my zone, I really *see* people. I don’t look past them and I don’t look at them, I see them. I look them straight in the eyes. My head is up, and I’m engaged with the world around me. There is music in my head and in my heart, and I can’t not smile. And I think that all of those are so unusual, they really attract attention. When I’m in that state, drivers in other cars smile back at me.

When I was 16, I remember being miserable at school and hiding in a corner, hoping someone would care enough to come find me and dissuade me from my misery. You’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that never worked. But when I am joyous, and don’t actually *need* anyone to do anything for my contentment, I attract people like flies to honey.

So what’s my take-away from this? I’m not sure. I know that when you are blue and would like to attract people, it is almost impossible to radiate contentment. I don’t think it can be faked. But maybe it can be emulated when I’m not in the mood… instead of hanging my head (which is natural and pervasive), force myself to look up, and meet other people’s eyes. Smile reflexively. Try to actually see people. Joy begets joy, while isolation and misery drive away others.

Faith in God

I had an “ah ha” moment recently. For anyone who is actively involved in the life of a church, there is tons to worry about. We worry about the budget for the fiscal year. (Like all not-for-profits, churches have been enormously hit by the collision of rising needs, and dropping contributions from families who have lost jobs. Unlike many not-for-profits, an alarming number of our members have fled the incredibly expensive metropolis to live in less expensive places, or to chase jobs elsewhere.) And then there are the larger problems of a conscientious Christian. The “bright” movement (a movement of atheists) claims by contrast that Christians are either dull or not so smart — or maybe both. And the extremist hateful Christians that seem to get all the press do nothing to dissuade anyone from this view. Our world is secularizing. Across oceans, rabid and destructive types of religions are rising like bread left too near the oven — getting sour and overflowing the bowl, while losing the qualities that make bread sustaining.

We look at our youth group. We lose them at about 16. They fade away… can’t be coerced or coaxed into something as uncool as church.

And as a Christian, I get this sort of desperate energy. I have to do something. I have to be a youth leader. I have to be an apologist (in the very oldest sense of the word) to help my faith make sense to a world that thinks it understands it, and doesn’t. I have to frenetically work to preserve the church.

And here comes my “ah ha”.

Secretly, in a part of my mind, I had the thought that I need to frenetically work to preserve God. What a 20th century, faithless American thought that is. If I really believe what I think I believe, that at least I can stop worrying about. If my faith is in a God who exists seperate of me and my beliefs — of a God so powerful that he created the universe and so loving that he sustains it — then there is no way the current waning of compassionate religiousity is a threat to God. Now, it may be a threat to many other things — the institutions of the church, the country (I do NOT want a theocracy to take root in America, because I sincerely doubt it will have room for me!), civil discourse, the needy… these are all things that I should work for. But if my faith is sincere, I do not need to fret about the possibility of God disappearing from my life, and from this world. And if I really believe what I think I believe, I can also have confidence that God will be present in the world as well — calling people to compassion and kindness, as well as to confidence in him. We humans are not in this alone.

And you know, that’s a tremendous relief to me. It is not a call not to work, but it is a call to work for what I believe in context of working in cooperation with my God, instead of somehow working to preserve him.

Commencing vermiculture endeavors

That’s right, we’re gonna grow worms! We just ordered a Can-o-Worms, which is an innovative setup where the worms always migrate up through various trays, so you can take the lower trays, which are mostly good vermicompost [dirt] without having to manually seperate out the wormies. It also has a spigot for “worm tea” which can replace most liquid fertilizers. We also ordered 2 pounds of Eisenia fetida, also known as red worms. We are very excited.

There are many reasons for pursuing vermiculture (or vermicide, depending on how good we are at it). It is an excellent source of high quality soil for gardens and house plants. It is ecologically beneficial — not only do we remove our food and many paper scraps from landfills, we also do not need to purchase nitrogen fertlizers, which I have learned are a petrochemical product. It can even be economically beneficial, if one paid for garbage by the pound, or frequently had to purchase potting soil and/or fertlizers.

But let’s be honest here. There’s one reason we’re setting up this worm bin.

We really want to. We think it will be fun. It’s one more great hobby!!!! I’m so psyched! It’ll be like having 2500 new little friends! I’ve wanted a worm bin since I saw my uncle’s when I was 14. I used to earn pocket money by helping people “harvest” worms from the football practice field behind our house when I was 8. I *like* worms. So prepared to read a lot about this for a while!

And then there’s the indisputable fact that “vermiculture” is a cool word, as is “vermicide”. Heh heh.

The inevitability of autumn

As I drove in today, I saw probably twice as many colored leaves as I saw on Monday. At one point, the wind was blowing and stripping yellow leaves off a tree one by one, and making them dance across traffic. It was quite cool this morning — in the mid 50s. The air is crisp — it’s humidity banished with the heat. I have the itching of autumn — to be creative and adventurous and travel. To be domestic, and quiet, and make pies on the counter while listening to fiddles.

Autumn is among us, a scent on the wind. It sweeps — as it does every year — some of the cobwebs from our routine-numbed brains. It asks questions that make us look at horizons and wonder what is past them. It trickles long-known and forgotten scents towards us, and makes us search for their pattern in our minds.

The falling leaves make me love them. The colors and pageantry and crisp air. For the first time, having lived through a brutal New England winter last year, I also understand the poignancy and threat behind the scarlet and gold. Autumn, in it’s kindness and grace, foretells winter in all its hard, uncaring violence and seeping drafts.

I wish I could return to the innocence of loving autumn with my whole heart, not knowing how painful and difficult the winds of February are.

September the 5th

This time of year is making me think of poetry. As I drive into work there’s a tree that is apparently calendar conscious. When we left before Labor Day it was green, and now it is tinged with fiery red around the edges. The change this morning is that a few leaves have fallen from it. There can be no denying that autumn is upon us.

Today’s poem is Shakespeare — but I don’t remember it all.

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs rough-shaken by the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where once the sweet bird sang…

I have done a bad thing this summer. By my standards, I have read almost nothing in several months. And what I have read has been entirely fluff. I think that part of my exhaustion comes from the fact I have not escaped into the fantasy world that is available to me through books. I need that, I think. As much as I need exercise, or good food, or vegetation, I need fantasy.

There are three worlds we humans inhabit: the world of the flesh, the world of the mind, and the world of the soul. I am living far too much in the world of the flesh — the impermanent one where satisfaction is fleeting. The other two worlds are what inform, strengthen and bring meaning to the factual, physical world. And I have neglected them. When I move, perhaps, I can reclaim my citizenship to them — or at very least, pay an extended visit.

Requiem for a torch-bearer

Our beloved friend and companion, the valient Knobby Foot, has passed on
to the warrior’s world of Valhalla. We found him last night, carefully
composed on a bier, with a spear in his hand and a determined, noble
look on his face. A note placed beside him read, “Do not stand at my
grave and weep. I am not here. I do not sleep.”

Knobby Foot was a true hero. He bravely faced and vanquished many foes,
including various fruit flies and paper towels. He had the capacity to
carry nearly his bodyweight in dried fruit in his cheek pouches, and was
often seen swaggering across Herot with cheeks wider than he was long.
He had been injured in single combat at an early age, earning his name
as well as a clubbed foot. Although the smallest of his litter, and
despite having the broken limb, he was also the fastest and one of the
most engaging. He proved that diminuative size was no obstacle to a
creature with his heart and courage.

Knobby Foot was predeceased by his mother Mrs. Robinson and his father
Mr. Jingles. His fruit-fly-foes will raise a glass of fermented tomato
in his memory. His many friends and admirers will miss him. His name
shall never pass from story or song.

What I learned from Medieval Studies

In some ways, learning about the middle ages was as much anthropology as history. (I suppose most history has an anthropological aspect.) I mean, there are historical facts and pieces of literature, but in some ways, I found attitudes and beliefs more interesting. My thesis was basically on medieval literary *attitudes* towards music. It wasn’t what they believed was true about music, it wasn’t about what music actually did in that period, it was about how people writing literature were likely to portray music in that literature.

This is a long introduction to one of the things I learned which blew me away when I realized it. With, I’m sure, many exceptions, people living in the Middle Ages did not anticipate that the world was going to change!!! Consider: 1) A medieval painting of King David — dressed in medieval garb with a medieval lyre and medieval-looking courtiers. 2) Rent declared in perpetuity that is not adjusted for inflation. Can you even imagine telling someone they and their children can rent an apartment from you and your heirs forever and ever for $1200? No! We’d never let it go that long, and if for some reason we did, we’d figure out a way to make sure it at very least moved with inflation. Unless we didn’t care about losing money. There are other examples. I’m sure there are counter examples of people who anticipated change. But I think they were also less likely to perceive change as progress. The Vandals sacking Rome was change, but it wasn’t progress. The black death was at some point new, but it wasn’t progress. Rising illiteracy in the beginning of the middle ages was a change, but it wasn’t progress.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a culture where change was not expected? (I’m sure this was true of other cultures — China comes to mind.) For all every generation feels like the one that is following it is going to hell, can you imagine a world where you actually anticipated depopulation, diminishing technology and deflation? What would change about *you* if you were a believing part of a culture who thought that the world was always going to be like it is today?

Of course that brings up eschatology, and the belief that the world wouldn’t change, it would simply end. We’re more likely to believe that if we don’t change, the world will end.