Slowly she is resurfacing, the Muse that feeds my imagination and nudges the words out of my mind and onto the page. I know the change in weather has something to do with it. For about a week now the days have been warm and full of sunshine, just the right environment to entice me out into my beloved garden to work the soil, scatter seeds, and plant some flowers.
Nature has also responded with much burgeoning growth. Trees are budding out at the speed of light and the St. Augustine grass has gone from hay-colored to fresh spring green in the flash of an eye. Tiny green shoots are poking through the earth, a promise of beauty and color yet to come.
Another deciding factor has been the time change. We sprang forward last weekend and the evenings are lighter longer which always brightens my soul. And even though this afternoon the sunshine slowly disappeared and the sky became leaden grey, I was able to feel very grateful and even lighthearted when the rains came to soak the parched ground.
We have had a very mild winter and we really need some rain. I am especially grateful that it has rained today because this means that I do not have to expend time and energy to water the garden tomorrow. We do not have an automatic system and it is quite time and energy consuming to move the sprinklers all around the garden to their allotted spots to make sure everything gets a good soaking.
So here I sit, in my wonderful lanai, outside yet sheltered from the rain, allowing the thoughts to flow and the fingers to run across the keyboard. The sky is still mostly grey and I think we will probably get some more rain this evening. Everything is a fresh lush green and, even though it is already 7.15pm, it is still quite light. I love moving through spring into longer days. For whatever reason it makes me feel more alive.
I think the change in weather and the change in time have happened just perfectly for me right now because both of these events have helped me to move outside and beyond the prevailing sadness that surrounded me and weighed down my heart. This was due to five deaths that have happened among my friends and family since the end of October last year. Dealing with death, even as I accept it as part of life’s cycle, takes its toll in a physical and emotional way. I am just so grateful that I have strong support systems and the right tools to help me deal with it.
Just as nature cycles through her seasons, so too do we humans. And to appreciate and enjoy the new life we also need to accept and appreciate the dying to the old life. I am grateful to have a faith, a belief in God and in a life hereafter. So once I move past the sorrow of loss I can rejoice and celebrate at the soul’s onward journey. Who knows what joys and what adventures await us in the Big Beyond!!
I am going to share a very intimate and personal story about a recent situation in my life. This story involves a friend who, for privacy reasons, I will choose to call “Pat”. I have known Pat for the six years since coming here to the States. In that short period of time she has faced some severe trials and tribulations.
The month before I arrived in Jacksonville, Pat lost of her then 8 year-old daughter. Three years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation during which she lost her hair but not her sense of humor nor her faith. Last December she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, has had surgery and now faces chemo and radiation – again. She still has her sense of humor and incredibly strong faith.
Ten days ago, after seeing Pat in church just a few days after her brain surgery, which was a miracle in and of itself, I received the following email from her:
“It was good to see you last night. I didn’t get the chance to talk to you after Mass and really it wasn’t the place, but I wanted to let you know how much you have been with me through this whole thing. When they told me about the tumor and having to get the PET scan to see about other possible places, I sort of let my imagination get away from me. It was really scary not knowing how involved the rest of my body might be with cancer. Of course, I started praying, but you were in my head also. You, to me, are such a spiritual, faithful, prayerful person with such a great understanding and insight to our faith. Yet, I know you have struggled with letting go of control of things. That is where I found myself before my scan, praying and still trying to control the outcome. Stupid. So there you are in my head trying to convince me to give it up. You got me to visualize a totally clear scan (neck down) have FAITH and TRUST. So during the scan that’s what I did. I prayed for it and you told me to trust God and let Him take care of me. In times of doubt and panic it calmed me to continuously turn it back over to God, let Him take it from me and TRUST He would, put my hands up and let go.
I feel so blessed that you came into my life when you did and are still here for me. You have planted so many seeds in people’s hearts and minds, I just wanted to let you know that something beautiful grew from one of those many, many seeds. Thank you and I love you!”
The following is my response to this email:
“It has taken me a while to get my emotions and my thoughts sorted out since receiving your email. After reading it I wept. It just touched my heart so deeply. And I went back to one of the reflection books that I had read that morning which quoted: ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears …..’ Hebrews 5:7. The reflection went on to say: ‘Praying is no light and trivial exercise. It engages all the powers of man’s moral and spiritual nature as is evident in the scripture verse above………. It takes only a moment’s thought to see how such praying drew mightily upon all the powers of God …….. This is the kind of praying that brings the soul close to God, and that brings God down to earth.’
These are the kinds of prayers that I have had to make recourse to in my “letting go struggles”. I live a very happy and joy-filled life in many ways and I am truly grateful for all the blessings that I have and continue to receive. However, I have never been brought to my knees as I have over my daughter. And, although it was for very different reasons in your case, I know that you too have been brought to your knees over your daughter – so you understand that kind of struggle.
The very next morning, in the same reflection book, I found this scripture, ‘I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.’ Romans 15:30. And the reflection then went on to talk about the effort that Paul put into praying: ‘It is like a great battle. Like a soldier, the praying Christian fights a life-and-death battle. His honor and eternal life are all at stake. Everything depends on the strength he puts in it……… This kind of praying engages our undivided hearts, our full consent to be the Lord’s’. And I know that if I redouble my prayer effort I will benefit in the long run.
So then I read the next reflection book (I read 4 or 5 each morning), and here is what I found: ‘Your journey through life is often not easy, and you may experience times when you awaken to find yourself battered and bruised, lost and forsaken, lying helpless along the side of life’s road. Your resources gone and your strength spent, you may wonder if there is hope for you. Will anyone come along to help? God has promised that there is no circumstance from which He cannot rescue you. If you call out to Him, He will help you to your feet and provide comfort and support until your wounds heal and you are able to continue on your way. Though the circumstance that caused your fall may still be present, He has promised to walk with you, steadying your feet and filling you heart with hope until you reach your final destination.’
Pat, we are so blessed to have our faith, to have our loving God. We are also so blessed to have all the friends that make up our parish family who will add their prayers to ours in times of difficulty and struggle. And at that moment I was reminded of yet another reading that I had done the previous day which reminded me, ‘The grace of God sustains me in every moment……Whatever lies before me, I can be sure that God is in the midst of it…….. I trust the grace of God to guide me. I live calmly and confidently, and I walk my path in peace. I have absolute assurance that the grace of God is equally present in the lives of those I care about.’
And right there I found yet another degree of inner peace. Your email opened my heart and my eyes on another level and let me read deeply into these reflections and led me back to reread them and take them more fully into my heart and mind. I am always so humbled and so grateful that God loves me enough to send me messengers over and over again to remind me of His message of love. So let us both take heart in our “struggles” knowing that we have an awesome God. Thank you for being my messenger. You remain as always in my prayers.”
And so the circle ripples out, when friends support each other with prayers and love and compassion. One seemingly small act by one person is received as such a huge blessing by another which, when verbally acknowledged to the first person then becomes an even bigger blessing to them. And in my case, it opened me to further blessings as I went back over my spiritual reflections and took the lessons even deeper into my heart.
Words have always fascinated me. The way they march across a page creating people, places, and life stories, or laying down facts and information, excites me to the core. I curl up with pleasure at the sight or sound of certain words while others have the power to chill me to the bone.
Words can be kind and compassionate, soft and gentle. Words can cause love or anger to burst forth in an eruption of passion more impressive than the best orchestrated firework display. They can soothe the soul and warm the heart or they can cut sharper than any well honed knife.
Words light up my own imagination and set my soul on fire. Perhaps for this reason I am always reading. As I already mentioned in my previous posting Musings- Relationships, I devoured books as I child. In elementary school they couldn’t keep enough books on the classroom library shelves for me.
Even poetry pleased me from an early age. Perhaps that is why I began writing my own poetry as I emerged from my painful “past life”. In High School, perhaps my sophomore or junior year, we held a poetry reading contest. One of my class mates, Mary Griswell, read a poem called Snake written by the somewhat controversial author D.H. Lawrence.
I was mesmerized by the second line. I was there, a few yards from the water-trough, in my own pajamas and I could feel the heat all around me. As the poem unfolded I was transported to this hot place in Italy (strange that it was in my beloved Italy!), and I could see the snake, his colors, the texture of his skin, and the slow movement of his body. Let me share the poem with you.
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
This poem made such an impression on my heart and mind that some years later I was inspired to make a pen and ink drawing of the snake. It sits in my dining room to this day. Whenever I look at it I can picture Mary in the library of the Ursuline High School, and if I close my eyes I can still hear her reciting the poem.