place, poetry, Uncategorized

Investments of the Heart


September Afternoon at Four O’Clock
Marge Piercy

Full in the hand, heavy
with ripeness, perfume spreading
it’s fan: moments now resemble
sweet russet pears glowing
on the bough, peaches warm
from the afternoon sun, amber
and juicy, flesh that can 
make you drunk.

This month I moved from a place I called home for decades in Santa Cruz County, California, a location rich with beauty that has filled me with wonder and gratitude where morning mist drifted between tree-covered hills and summer’s noon sun lifted the redwood’s green scent from the forest floor. Wasps drinking the grapes’ sweetness hummed under the arbor on autumn afternoons, crickets sang at twilight, and at night the horned owls call from among the redwoods.

Bees Among the Arbor Grapes

Though I lived abroad for over two and a half decades in urban environments, I always looked forward to coming home to Santa Cruz County to be restored, a place with a multitude of trails through forests, as well as being near the coast with the sea stretching into the far distance. After rains, moisture rose from the redwood duff and the bay laurels, making the earth smell medicinal green. Walking on that earth, I felt the sweetness of being alive, as if I were tasting one of the pears Marge Percy describes in the opening stanza of her above poem.

Mists Among the Trees Out the Back Door, Soquel

When my husband and I moved to our house in the Soquel Hills of Santa Cruz County years ago, I never suspected I would move, never considered that one day it would be wise to have an easier home to manage and a smaller amount of land to care for. We can’t see all the way to the end of a road we’re traveling on. Needs change, bodies age, environments alter, and so do world economics. As Percy writes,

There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch.
We are ripening…

Whenever we let go of what we’ve loved and held dear we experience loss. We have to leave behind much in our lives when moving–people we hold dear, pathways we’re familiar with, places that bring us joy, routines we find comfort in and all the many memories place holds–the tree we sat under in afternoons, the hill we rode down on a bicycle, the restaurant where we ate a favorite food, the steps we argued with someone on, the school we graduated from, the storm that carried the bridge away or the quake that tumbled the house’s chimney–griefs and joys–all the many ways we experience the turn of light and the sounds of the earth we walk on through the seasons across years.

Just as we can’t wear the same shoes throughout our lives and a favorite piece of clothing wears out, even though we may not want it to happen or feel unprepared for it when it does, transitions are necessary. Wanted or unwanted, transformations require adjustment, internal and external. If we can arrive at the place of embracing the change as part of a journey rather than a final destination, we can discover new ways of understanding and being in the world. “We are ripening,” Percy calls it. Potential and possibility are there.

As Percy goes on to say,

Whatever happens, whatever,
we say, and hold hard and let
go and go on. In the perfect 
moment the future coils,
a tree inside a pit. Take,
eat, we are each other’s
perfection, the wine of our
mouths is sweet and heavy.
Soon enough comes the vinegar.
The fruit is ripe for the taking
and we take. There is
no other wisdom.

The past, present and future are all contained in the fruit we hold even though we may not fully see it. The seed, the tree, the fruit, the vinegar–reality is all of these simultaneously, not just one of these things by itself–even if one aspect appears more dominant. Vinegar comes, and with it will come, the sour things we don’t like to taste. But the vinegar is not all. There’s also the fruit. “Hold hard,” Percy says. Let what we love be dear. Feel its weight. Taste the flavor of each other’s perfection and the perfection of the world around us in this moment just as it is, the perfection of its imperfection.

Percy also says, “let go and go on.” Hold on. But also let go! Everything around us is in transformation anyway. It is in relationship with each other and with the world around us that through time we transform and become whole. This is how we are each other’s perfection that Percy describes.

Here are trees I lived beside and called my friends, and this is the garden I nurtured that fed me and gave me beauty, and this is the ocean and fields I loved, though there’s so much more inside the experience of each of these—all the ways the land I lived on whispered its life, bestowed its presence, left its imprint. I hold all these, and more, dear.

There are many ways of knowing something. One of them is to live beside it for a long time, to observe it for many seasons and through many kinds of weather and light until in the end it takes on life. You see the same scene but with more depth, with all its nuances, history, subtleties and character. I have left now these things I’ve held dear, but paradoxically, they are still with me and still alive, as are the many other places and people I hold dear who are no longer with me yet still influence how I live.

The evening I left Santa Cruz for the last time to drive up the coast and then inland to my new home, the sun was setting, an ongoing display of dying light in all its beauty. I’ve entered a new world now, further north in Sonoma County. I don’t know where time will take me from here but I’m holding on to the fruit of this experience, savoring it until it’s again time to let go.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid,” wrote Fredrick Buechner. There’s a lot of uncertainty we collectively face as a planet in the years ahead. Moving is a practice in death and rebirth. I hope I can learn to face every future transformation and not be afraid.

community, poetry, Uncategorized

Finding the Fragrance of Home

Hills of Soquel, Santa Cruz County, California

…you and I each
carry the other in a gesture here,
a phrase there, a sudden burst of laughter,
and we have changed one another

in ways we may never recognize
and these mountains are our witnesses.

–Michael L. Newell, from “Of Goodbyes, Memories and Eidolons”

Sumac, horned toads, lizards, hawks, jack rabbits, and hills covered in wild grass strewn with granite boulders, these were inhabitants in the desert homeland where I grew up in San Diego County.

I spent many hours wandering grassy hillsides of pungent perfume with wildflowers as a child, looking out across a wide valley to hills in the far distance. Those moments in quiet solitude indelibly shaped my sense of home. The world I knew as a child was a narrow one. We didn’t go anywhere on vacations, and though we lived twenty something miles from the ocean, our family went there but a few times, and only occasionally visited the Cuyamaca mountains, though they, too, were only a little over an hour’s drive away. We were people who stayed at home. As a result, the natural landscape was our companion, a blanket we wrapped ourselves in—a place we repeatedly explored. It was an open space to wander and explore, a place of deep connection.

Hills of eastern San Diego County, California

There is much to be said for the wonder of desert lands—the Earth’s exquisite beauty is revealed there with such openness. Deserts bring us in direct contact with Earth’s elemental form, the magnificence of mineral essence. Nevertheless, listening to stories about other parts of the US and learning about the world beyond the borders of my understanding, my curiosity grew. With the wish to experience something of the way others lived and saw the world, I left Southern California, moved to the Midwest, then to Northern California, and eventually moved abroad, where I lived and worked in six different countries over a period of twenty-six years.

Western Desert, leaving Taif, Saudi Arabia

Each place I’ve lived had recurring scents unique to that particular location. In Delhi, where I lived for nine years, smoke, Hexol, and paint fumes were dominant scents. In a city of 20 million, where approximately 200 thousand are homeless, in winter months people burn whatever they can find to keep warm—including wood from the forest on the ridge near Buddha Park, garbage, dung, and plastic. The smell of smoke in evenings was strong, often overpowering. Because of difficulty breathing, in addition to running three air purifiers in the apartment at all times, each night we’d put masking tape around our doors and pushed towels up under the door to help keep smoke out. When my husband and I returned to California each summer after teaching in Delhi, we’d spend a lot of time weeding in our garden, renewing planter beds, watering, and generally nurturing things back to life again. On the far side of our planter beds a stand of redwoods rise up from a gulch. One afternoon, while hunched over pulling weeds in the blackberry patch, the redwoods’ loam released a perfume—a warm woodsy, clean fragrance that felt nearly magical. I stopped what I was doing, stood up, and inhaled deeply. The scent was light and hung in the air, an offering of only a few fleeting moments. Then it was gone. Awareness of beauty is often raised by experiencing its absence. Inhaling the redwoods’ perfume after living for years in Delhi where I would never find such a scent, my heart opened to this gift from the trees and held it as a kind of sacramental moment.

View from my apartment balcony in New Delhi on a bad day of pollution

One fallen redwood leaf by itself, doesn’t create the perfume that stopped me from my work to acknowledge the trees’ presence. Such perfume arises as the result of thousands upon thousands of leaves that have built up over time in collaboration with the afternoon’s heat. Deep presence is an accumulated practice of letting go, a perfume of spirit, blessing all who are near.

Deciding to return to the US after living abroad for nearly three decades, many people asked, “Why now?” One of the central reasons was to reconnect to the land in a more integral way. There was more life to be lived, different lives to inhabit, and I wanted to step inside a new way of being. Life overseas opened many wonders and offered new insights. Returning to live beside trees and near wild space, however, would allow me to let go of firmly fixed schedules, dig my hands into the earth, and allow myself time to discover a slower, different rhythm where I might encounter a deeper truth about living and inner space could expand.

In his poem, “Estrangement,” from his new book, Wandering, Michael L. Newell writes, “I have lived so long among strangers / that I have become strange to myself.” Returning home after so long a sojourn is to find myself in the words of Newell’s poem. Entering in again to life in the country I was born into, refamiliarizing as well as familiarizing myself newly with its history and land, I’m made aware, again, of the contradictions between America’s actions and its ideals.

The place and earth we call home wants to be known, cared for and nurtured so it can continue to regenerate. Nevertheless, as reported by the National Geographic, among other things, the current US president during his office has given the go ahead to increased logging, reduced restrictions for clean air, and narrowed the definition of what constitutes clean water, as well as sold land belonging to national monuments to private businesses for mining and drilling, There is a long history of this way of thinking, as Lucille H. Brockway describes in her article, “science and colonial expansion: the role of the British Royal Botanic garden,” clarifying how Britain, (and the West in general) sought to manipulate plants and saw them primarily a way to advance their country economically and to control trade. The disunity we’re experiencing now in the US, resulting from centuries of ongoing oppression, fear and the anxiety reaches beyond the US borders to the world at large. Human oppression is not unrelated to Western culture’s treatment of the natural world.

View of the redwoods from our California garden

As Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her talk on Emergence Magazine, when you nurture the land, it expresses back to you its love in the life it gives you. This is true in human relationships as well. One of the poem’s in Newell’s book, “That Hand Which Was Never Withdrawn,” describes a child’s heartbreak and anger after experiencing a painful fight between his parents the previous day. The father, picking the child up from school reaches out to him, still in pain.

“We must talk sooner or later.”  His voice
was barely audible.  “I hate you,” I said.  “I hate you
and will never talk to you again.”  I glanced at him:
his face caved in, his eyes lost down the country road.
His voice floated up from some deep cavern or well
where people go when pain is too great for daylight.

“Michael, you will be my son for years.  No matter
what you say or do, you will always be my son.
And I love you.”

The poem poignantly speaks to our humanness, to our loss and brokenness, how difficult it is to transform ourselves in the midst of painful events, challenges, and histories that have hurt and divided us. We can see this in the child’s harsh words, “I…will never talk to you again,” words whose pain echoes in the father’s heart as his eyes drift down the road, before his voice lifts from the depths of his own wounded heart. The beautiful thing that occurs in this exchange, however, is the father doesn’t react in anger or spite. Neither does he deny the wounding that has occurred. Instead, he extends his love and tells his child, ‘“…No matter / what you say or do, you will always be my son. And I love you.”’ There is such tenderness given here, such wisdom.

New grape leaf budding on the vine in my garden

Both our human relationships and the land we live on shape and change us, helping to create the home we live in in our minds and hearts. Whether speaking of human relationships or the natural world, renewal and healing requires us to look deeply at the conditions that bring destruction, as well as the causes of oppression, fear and brokenness in the world around us, and then to work to rebuild relationships on foundations that allow both humans the natural world to flourish. Affirming relationships, as the father did in Newell’s poem rather than feeding the pain and anger, creates a bridge  to meet each other on and begin anew.

Carrie Newcomer writes in her song, “Leaves Don’t Drop They Just Let Go,”

Leaves don’t drop they just let go,
And make a place for seeds to grow
Every season brings a change,
A seed is what a tree contains,
To die and live is life’s refrain

What needs to be let go of in our actions or way of thinking again and again like the leaves of the redwood? What hinders our fullness and prevents our lives from being like the redwoods whose accumulated fallen leaves release the perfume of our transformed selves so that on days when someone who happens to be near can unbend from the strain of their hunched labor and inhale life’s blessing?

At the base of a virgin growth redwood, Soquel, California


Note: Michael L. Newell’s book, Wandering, can be ordered through Bookshop Santa Cruz, as well as through Amazon.


What Ties You to Where You Live

Coast above Santa Cruz at Año Nuevo

It’s a beautiful day here in Santa Cruz, California. The sun shines off the oak trees as I sit in front of the post office, observing the wonderful kinetic sculpture at the front of the mall, Santa Cruz’s main downtown street, with its silvery wheels inside of wheels spinning, turning, and reflecting the morning sun coming down. If you stand at the ocean’s edge on West Cliff Drive, you can see 50 miles across the bay to Monterrey. Further up the coast you can walk along the cliffs near Wilder Ranch and stare out past the waves into the plain of stretching water and the fabulous sense of freedom it evokes.

photo-31I’m sure that people love the towns and counties they live in for a variety of reasons. Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to live and to spend time. Something I especially love about the area is the wide variety of people here. The town has a strong sense community, and you can also enjoy diverse outdoor activities in the area: hiking, kayaking, surfing, biking. I love books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz in downtown Santa Cruz, with its wide variety of reading choices, is a fantastic place to while away several hours. Also, the presence of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College offer additional character and interest to the town. Shakespeare Santa Cuz is held every year at UCSC, and Cabrillo College has its music festival. Additionally, there are many choices of restaurants to try and several farmers markets to buy locally grown food.

Temperatures in the area tend to be mild–not too hot, and not too cold. The mountains with redwoods are only minutes from the beach, allowing for micro climates and micro plant communities as well. As you can see, there are many things to like about this town, but there are things to like about many places. Delhi has it’s historical monuments and ancient history. Japan, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Zimbabwe–the list could go on and on, all have amazing monuments and each their unique beauty, so, what is it that bonds me in particular to this location? I think it is my connection to and interaction with the natural world here. Wild sweet peas and California poppies shine their sunny faces along the roadsides, oaks dot the hillsides and grassy meadows, redwoods grow in the hills 15 minutes inland from the beach. Their presence is something that has grown in importance to me over the years The trees on my land seem almost like part of my family. I love to stand in the yard and suddenly smell their enigmatic perfume drifting by. When you visit a place, it may be beautiful, but you’re just passing through. When you repeatedly come back to a place or live in an area, you see it in all it’s moods. It grows inside of you and becomes part of the geography of your soul.

photo-28More than this, I am working on the land here, getting my hands in the soil, digging, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting fruit, herbs, and vegetables from the garden. Bit by bit the garden grows, and I am watching as plants surprise me, like the red flame grape that is taking over the arbor and currently has a hundred clusters of grapes on it, and the blue berries that have given us several bowls full of fruit since arriving home. They are beautiful to see in the morning with the dew gathering on their dusty blue fruit. The sun shines through the grape leaves, and they glow like stained glass. Each plant has its own character and habit, and as I work with them and care for them, I learn from them. I previously felt bad about cutting back the lavender, for example, but now that I have, it is growing more profusely and seems much happier, making me think that a limitless pruning might  be good for all of us at certain times, whether that means minimizing our possessions according to what no longer helps us become our best selves, or learning self-control, not giving in to all of our desires, again, so that we can be more of the person we most want to be in the long run–the bigger picture of our lives.

At night here in the Soquel hills just south of Santa Cruz, a myriad of stars illuminate the sky. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be so enveloped in nature as I am when I am here, to constantly be aware of the earth’s gifts, to be able to walk out on to the earth instead of a sidewalk, to be able to smell the air’s sweetness–air without smoke or chemicals. It seems a miracle here every day in my home county. I suppose if you lived here every day you might start to think that this is the way the earth is. In reality, I think places like this, communities that still have open space and nature around them are becoming more rare. Living in a place that allows me too connect with nature on a daily basis feeds my spirit, brings me a sense of peace and renewal, and is deeply satisfying. Maybe this is because I grew up in a rural area and it is part of the geography of my soul, something I long for after living in so many large cities in my adult life. Is it the same for others? What connects you to the place you live?


Coming Home

Gerald Stern’s, “Let Me Please Look Into My Window” is such a beautiful and powerful poem in the understated grief he describes in leaving home, “Let me walk up Broadway past Zak’s, past the Melody Fruit Store,” he says, listing the small details of his home and street, “past Stein’s Eyes, past the New Moon Inn, past the Olympia.” As you read on, you recognize Stern is describing more than leaving home, but leaving life itself–

Let me leave quietly by Gate 29

and fall asleep as we pull away from the ramp
into the tunnel.

Let me wake up happy, let me know where I am, let me lie still,
as we turn left, as we cross the water, as we leave the light.

For many of us who have lived away from their home countries for decades, there comes a time, though you didn’t necessarily think it would, when it’s hard to leave, hard to head back across the water again. You just want to stay home and rediscover all the small details of the world there that you didn’t know when you lived there–to walk up your own home town’s Broadway or Melody’s Fruit store in all its wonderful commonplace richness. But you have to leave–you have commitments to meet. Quietly, you walk past your own gate 29, leaving the light behind to sleep in the airplane’s cocoon, and wake up on the other side of the world.

In the other world you live in, you try out new things, learning new skills, go new places. Explore. It is a good world, too, but something hidden in you longs, after a while, to come home to yourself. To be whole. Perhaps it is the longing that enables us to recognize home, and what it is we need in order to be whole.

I’m wondering, what does it mean for you to come home to yourself? What do you need to feel whole?

Read Stern’s full poem here, on the Writer’s Almanac.


Coming Home to Ourselves

Today Michael and I spent time putting our house in order after moving to a different apartment here in Delhi. Getting things on the wall before we start work helps me to feel settled in. After we got all the various items up on the wall and were taking a rest, I began to wonder about what these objects, what they really are in my life. They all represent something of Michael and I and our journey, but they are also not us, not the journey, not even metaphors for what that journey meant. We are really none of the things on the wall. All of the things on the walls of our house and the objects on our shelves we have we obtained on our journeys since living overseas, and some of them were given to us. A number of the things I would not now select to take home with me, none the less we have them and they help make our apartment look lived in. Having things put up or away makes me feel more at rest and at home.

But what is it that makes a place home, that makes us feel at home underneath a place’s surface features of familiar objects? When I am on our land in California, I feel totally at home, at rest, complete, whole and fully alive, like I did when I was a child climbing the hills in back of our house off of Oak Creek Dr. in Lakeside. There I would roam the hilltops and hillsides through the dry yellow grass overlooking the valleys, and lie on the granite boulders, heat seeping into my skin, sinking into my bones, where I would stare up into the endless blue sky and the eucalyptus trees’ dry branches, watching hawks circle through. No thought of time or its shortness. I am lounging in the arms of the eternal now, just being. Now, when I am on my land in Soquel, again I feel this connection, though I do not really understand why. It has something to do with the land, that particular land with its unique geography. I feel aware of the earth under my feet, and I want to take care of it, to nurture it. The geography of a place affects our spirits, teaches us something of who we are. The Psalmist said, “The Heavens declare the Glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” If nature reflects God, it helps us see who we are in relationship to the vastness of creation, as well as to its minuteness and particular qualities–it is a kind of microscope, mirror, or telescope, a powerful source of metaphor, and a source that helps us know and define ourselves in relationship to the world.

When I first knew Michael, I remember riding in the bed of someone’s truck when our own truck broke down somewhere around Auburn, CA. The sky had the back-lit blue light that it gets when the sun has just gone down. I looked over at him sitting there, his hair rustled with wind, and thought about how peaceful I felt in his presence, how it was like coming home to myself, and I knew he was my home, my spirit was at home with him. Home, then, is more than a place, more than the land we stand on or the house we live in. Home is about relationship, and has to do with the quality of being.

This morning while Michael was giving me a haircut, I was listening to a short YouTube where Parker Palmer  speaking with an interviewer from the Fetzer Institute talked about how many of us allow institutions to define ourselves rather than seeing that our identity comes not from what we do, but from within, from our own sense of being. We often go through the world thinking, Parker says, that “I am what I do …. my worth comes from my functioning. If there is to be any love for us, we must succeed at something.”  We are living with a kind of unspoken fear about whether we will measure up. Parker explains that seeing our selves not as a being, but someone in a particular role, someone who has become that role–who is identified with what we do, is why many people feel lost when they no longer have their job, or the role they have played for so long changes. Or when their body starts to fall apart, as well, I want to add. We are more than the role we play, or the job we hold, more than any one thing we do or what it is that happens to our bodies. We are deeper, more mysterious than this. We are alive. We participate in a mystery.

How do we learn more how to be when the culture we are from and the world we are in tells us what counts is what we do? I think it takes courage to look beyond the definition of life that is satisfied to stop with a definition of self or selves that can be quantified and labeled. We must find places to look to that repeatedly, daily even, bring us back to that place where we are aware of the mystery of life and of being–where we can wander through the yellow hills and know our essence is connected to the earth and to each other, not to a clock. I want to grow deeper into that place of being, acquaint myself further with who that person is. It will teach me more how to live, how to be alive.

Michael memorized this poem from Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology and recited it to me when I first knew him. It captures the relationship to life and to the world that I want to walk in, the way it is when you come home to yourself.

Faith Methany

AT first you will know not what they mean,
And you may never know,
And we may never tell you:–
These sudden flashes in your soul,
Like lambent lightning on snowy clouds
At midnight when the moon is full.
They come in solitude, or perhaps
You sit with your friend, and all at once
A silence falls on speech, and his eyes
Without a flicker glow at you:–
You two have seen the secret together,
He sees it in you, and you in him.
And there you sit thrilling lest the
Mystery stand before you and strike you dead
With a splendor like the sun’s.
Be brave, all souls who have such visions
As your body’s alive as mine is dead,
You’re catching a little whiff of the ether
Reserved for God Himself.


Beginnings and Endings

Beginnings are connected to endings, and endings to beginnings. Every time something is born, something else passes away. This past weekend, my husband Michael, and I spent our time moving to a new apartment. Our move was only one floor above, not a very big move, still it seems new and different. Since the move was so close-by, I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought about the move being much of a change other than wondering how we were going to manage to find the time to pack and then unpack with so little time left in India before we would be leaving for the summer. Nevertheless, as the opportunity to move opened and I carried box after box up the stairs, I found myself repeatedly thinking about how this phase of my life was ending–my time in the apartment with its idiosyncrasies of the toilet pipes that run and then stop running on their own, the particular scent of the rooms, the tree leaves grown thick over the window–all that was over!

One phase of my life was complete but another had begun. Sunday night we went to dinner with our friend Kamal, and her family, in celebration of her acceptance into the teaching program at a university in Calgary. To become a teacher is Kamal’s dream, and she is entering a new phase of her life as she sets off for college in a city and country unfamiliar to her now. It’s all so very exciting, but at the same time, a bit scary because of its unfamiliarity.

Since I’ve moved many times in my life, I’ve often wondered what it is like for people who stay in one location their whole lives, or for those who have rarely moved. What is it like to grow deep roots in one place? How might it change the way you see the world? Imagine having friends who have known you your whole life, who have seen you grow and change, who have watched as you developed new skills, and who were there to encourage you along the way! You would have friends you share a long history with, who know you well enough that you could sit with them in silent communion. That would be a rare gift. You would also know a landscape intimately–its myriad shades of sunlight and shadow. A good steward of the land, you would have taken care of it through all forms of weather and seasons. The land itself would your trusted friend.

That is one version of what it could be like to stay in one place your whole life. My life has not followed this path, though. Instead, I have repeatedly stepped into the unknown or semi-known. Doing this gets more challenging as you grow older and feel greater pressure to save up financial resources for the years when you will not work and yet need to go on paying for your living expenses. Adventures involve the unpredictable and the unexpected, and moving into unknown territory often is not easy, as you never feel fully settled in any one place. On the other hand, the advantage of moving frequently is that it has served as a bell that reminds me to repeatedly come back to the idea of how precious the time is in each place I live in or travel to. Often, I only have a brief time to be with old friends from my hometown each summer, or just a hand full of days with family members every few years, so those days and whatever they contain are dear.

Quite a number of years ago now I read Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, a book that helped me see the value of life of a migratory life in a new way. Chatwin explains, “As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less ‘aggressive’ than sedentary ones.

There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a ‘leveller’ on which the ‘fit’ survive and stragglers fall by the wayside.”

Chatwin says our “real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” This is a terrific promotion of the value of walking, and the view of life one gains through the pace a journey takes when on foot. I’m intrigued, though, by the notion of life itself being a pilgrimage, a hard journey.  If we can recognize that those walking beside us as fellow travelers, young, old, rich, poor, of different religions and different cultures, we can learn from each other and can better understand how to find our way.

Our “way” has something to do with understanding how these mundane things of our lives, like packing up our house and moving, or walking to work or standing in line at the cafeteria, are what life is. The every day events and conversations and how we carry them out, are what make the fabric of our lives. In the commonplace of our lives lies the journey itself. It is a pilgrimage where the inner journey meets the outer that occurs whether we leave home or stay in the same place our entire lives. One reason I continue to pick the transitory life is that it forces me to continue to think about the place where the inner and outer journeys meet and to make myself take note of how I am walking.

This time of year in the world of international schools, the environment I live and work in, many people are moving away, both students and teachers. Thirteen years spent in one place, perhaps, and then that someone is gone. Last weekend, as I sat in the room with a group of friends singing, I was looking at the faces of three people I will not see again here next year, Vicky and Ron and Deanna. They are such a natural part of my world here that it is very difficult to imagine them gone. Even though we speak of it, though we have going away parties, though we talk about their plans, and look forward to them enjoying their new experiments in living, my mind goes on affirming their presence. I suppose that is because they aren’t quite gone yet, and because I know we will still be in communication after they are gone. But as Vicky says, they are “history.” Their influence on my life will no longer be the way it was. Still, the influence of their presence on my life continues. I know I have quoted Buechner several times already on these postings, but Buechner says it well, “When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. I means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”

Good-byes are a kind of death, it is true. There are always too many things going on when they occur, and we are never quite ready for them. But they are also a beginning. The Hindus demonstrate this understanding of the cycle of life and death in their god, Shiva, who is both the creator-destroyer. The Jewish scriptures of Ecclesiastes say, “There is a time and a place for everything under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die.” The Celts in ancient Ireland began their new year in winter. For Christians, Jesus’ death brings life. In the midst of death, life is being born. When you are carrying the weight of boxes up stairs for hours on end, it’s just plain hard. Your feet get tired and your back as well. But that’s the way new things get born– step by step you carry your load to the new location and set it down. Of course, it’s always very nice when someone can help you carry the weight. We are on this road together, we can do that no matter where we are. As fellow pilgrims say on the road to Santiago de Compostela, “Buen camino,” happy travels.