A Pilgrimage or Migration?

“Maybe what fills us (our loved ones, our work, our hobbies) migrates much like the geese. Maybe we’re like the Canadian geese and return each year to the same ponds with the same friends. But maybe we’re like the snow geese and continue to extend our limits. Maybe we’re a hybrid of the two. Maybe, like migrators in the spring, we chase the frost lines in our souls and wait for a summer day.” — Arla Poindexter

Sometimes, I write poetry. Writing carries me into my truth. I actually wrote a poem about writing poetry once:

I name thee…

Song of my soul. I name thee bearer
Of truth, my truth, my words
Narrating my life, telling my story,
Guaranteeing my version is heard.

Only here, only now, only in this vessel,
From words will my dreams create

My reality of hope, healing, happiness, will
Yearnings for more begin endings.

Song of my soul, you seek memories
Of tomorrow, multiply yesterdays,
Unexpectedly seduce me with kisses.
Lingering joy.

(December 31, 2007)

Perhaps the elusive memory of that poem — one I’d nearly forgotten — drew me to Arla’s words over and over. Chase the frost lines in our souls … wait for a summer day. Or maybe it was the poetry of the words themselves. Chase the frost lines in our souls … wait for a summer day. But I suspect they resonated because God was using Arla to touch my life with her insight yet again.

I have been feeling old. Very old. Lay down in a coffin and bury me old. For days and weeks, I have been feeling like garbage, worthless, disposable. I have been remembering the resilience of youth, when every obstacle, every adversity, was just temporary. I believed — deep down, under the stormy surface — I would overcome and, eventually, find myself in a less vulnerable, more stable place.

That did not happen. And now, at an age when my contemporaries are enjoying retirement, I am starting yet another job, hoping to get through the six-month probationary period, so I can work at least five years to get vested in the retirement system and maybe beyond that so that my Social Security benefits will be higher — if Social Security still exists in seven or eight years. I am tired by the end of the workday on Wednesday and exhausted by Friday.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve spent my whole life chasing the frost lines in my soul without ever finding summer. I was chitchatting with God about this on my way to work this week. That’s our morning routine. I drive for an hour, talking to God, and he throws in his two cents now and then — usually as a feeling or thought or impression, something clearly not coming from the same place as my monologue.

This week, a Scripture verse popped into my head during one of these chats: “Take nothing with you for the trip, no walking stick, no beggar’s bag, no food, no money, not even an extra shirt” (Luke 9:3, GNT). Since then, I’ve been mulling over my life in terms of being sent. What if my life was never intended to be about the destination, but about the journey?

That’s not original, but it’s also not the prevailing message of our culture. And, I suspect it’s not a part of our genetic code. We want to be connected to others, we want to love and be loved, and create stability and community. We want to belong and be valued. We want roots and security and happiness. Our forefathers believed so strongly in our “unalienable right” to pursue happiness, they wrote it into the Declaration of Independence. For most of us, independence is achieved through financial security, which is the prevailing message of our culture.

But what if God wrote something different in my DNA? What if I have been sent? Not necessarily sent to do great things, but to simply do good things? What if my role in life is simply to journey with others for a short time, lightening their burdens and helping them to get their second wind? If that’s the case, maybe I’m not so much disposable as available. And maybe, just maybe, instead of measuring all the ways my life failed to meet my hope and dreams, I should consider what I have gained from the path trod and what I still have to offer.

Abraham’s wife Sarah and Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth both were fruitful late in life, when they were past the age when anything was expected of them. That could very well be true for me, too, and the journey may well have been a pilgrimage to that holy place. At least, that’s what I am thinking this morning.





Homesick for Yesterday

Blue, blue, my world is blue
Blue is my world now I’m without you.
Gray, gray, my life is gray
Cold is my heart since you went away.

The Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis has been hosting a month-long program called ArtBites. Once a week, folks who sign up for the program go to the museum and traipse as a group to one of the pieces currently on exhibit. We sit, like elementary students, on low stools and the curator guides us with questions through an exercise in seeing.

This week, I felt raw when I walked out of the museum.

The curator had chosen an assemblage, which reminded me — not in content, but in style — of a dear friend from those days when I was striving to be an artist. Not an artist as I am now — one who paints for the pleasure of creating images, but an artist whose work is exhibited, viewed by an audience and sold. I found myself longing for the hours we spent in conversation, longing for his creative imagination which was large enough to engage a second set of hands (mine), longing for the community of fellow artists he created with his amazing goodness.

“Goodness” is probably an odd choice of words to use when speaking about an artist. While the word is often found in spiritual literature, artists are usually praised for the work of their hands, not for their character, not for the way in which they walk in this world. I could just as easily — perhaps more easily — write of the amazing work he has created over the years, but at the Shrem this week, I was missing his friendship.

I was missing the sense of rightness I experienced in my life when we were together — not just the two of us, but the whole coterie of artists his temperament drew together. The path I tread at that point in my life was not well-traveled, but it was comfortable and it was mine — so completely mine that every path since has felt like a search for the treasure of that authentic moment. I’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other. I have experienced joy in other activities, but the longing to belong again as I did then has never left me.

At the Shrem, I pulled my stool back, away from the assemblage, because I was afraid I would cry if I sat too close. I didn’t expect that kind of homesickness to wash over me in this contemporary museum — so new the inaugural exhibit is still up. I didn’t expect it to blindside me while looking at works by California artists; my friend’s work is so solidly rooted in his Midwestern ag background. (What in the world do beads — or were they pool balls? — have to do with the price of grain, hunger and the impact of GMOs on the human body?)

When I pulled my stool back, I created a space in the line of stools which another woman quickly filled. Initially, I thought she stood and moved to stand directly in front of me, blocking my view entirely with her ass — flat as it was, it still blocked my view, in order to see a part of the piece she could not see from her location. However, since she remained there, I was forced to move or to be excluded from the experience offered by the Shrem. I took her seat.

In her seat, I could read the words scrawled across the bottom of the assemblage. One phrase struck me: “Love is Blue.” About the time the work was created, one of the pop hits was a song by that name. I commented on this, and Flat Ass challenged me, saying there was no way of knowing that. I wanted to say, ‘I can read the date on the label, and I happen to remember that time in my life quite well (bitch).’ Instead, I pulled out my phone, googled the song, and provided the information which confirmed my observation.

As I sit here now, I wonder if that little verbal spat didn’t take us in the wrong direction. On the canvas portion of the assemblage were spheres, each with a single dot, which suggests they could have been beads from a broken string. Some were dark blue, some were lighter blue and some were white. We were told the number of spheres was equal to the artist’s age at the time the work was created. What if the color of the sphere indicated a year in his life lived without someone he loved?

I also wonder, though, about the symbolism of the woman filling the space I left vacant. Isn’t that what happens in life — what is supposed to happen in life? When one person moves, another fills that person’s place. Why, then, could I not push away the loneliness I felt participating in that exercise  as I pushed the museum’s over-sized door to leave? Do some people leave a space which cannot be filled?

I texted my friend before returning to work. I don’t do this often, because nearly 20 years have passed since we worked together on a project, and our paths have diverged. But in that moment, I ached for what will never again be.