Today I weeded the strawberry patch at my brother’s farm and it felt like I was weeding myself as well. Pull a weed, remember an emotion from childhood. As I toss it on the mulch pile, the memories crowd my throat and the tears fall.
It is early Spring here in Vermont, the world has turned a tender green, the waterfalls are thundering, and the weeds are trying to take over the gardens. I’m down on my knees in Red Clover’s perennial flowerbeds and scrabbling at stubborn roots, my own included.
I love weeding. It’s like a meditation as I feel for the plant’s grip in the soil and pull with just the right pressure, however deep it goes. I get calm, focused – needing to, these days, as the climate swings wildly from too cold to too hot and society swings wildly from sane to insane.
We’re way out of whack. Five young people I know committed suicide recently. Big breath. But still, the air here is fragrant with lilac and lily-of-the-valley, and last night’s thunder-and-lightning storm was a thrilling show!
Where is the balance point?
Last week I was in Boston for my daughter’s production “Harmony and Hope,” a concert/ritual for healing the emotional wounds of gun violence. It was held at a historic church in Roxbury, designed to ease pain in the community and to give hope for a non-violent future.
Partly first-person testimony and partly performance, it began with one mother’s story about losing her son to gang warfare. In the shocked silence, the string quartet played Debussy, and we sat holding each other, tears falling. Then the Gospel Choir, scattered throughout the audience began singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ rousing us to hope and interconnection as the next speaker told us that his five best friends were now down to two. We listened to stories of unthinkable loss, followed by music made by people of many faiths and ethnicities. By the time the string quartet and Gospel singers came together in harmony for the final song of hope, ‘Oh Happy Day!’ the spirit in the space was high enough to raise the roof, everyone clapping and singing together in mutual healing and joy.
The concert was visionary and brilliant, and was created by this child of my heart…
It brought me back to my own days of singing Gospel in a Black church, feeling the warm rush of shared faith even though I was white and Jewish and did not share their particular belief in the Christian story. I remember translating, in my mind, the spirit of hope we shared into my own understanding of the ineffable that is neither Christian nor Jewish but touches a deep sense of ultimate goodness. For me it was – and is - a root-source, non-literal and intuitive, following an arc of human experience much longer than just our patriarchal religions.
What we shared was the ecstasy of the music, however we got there, and it touched my soul.
At Rebecca’s concert I found myself dipping again into that kind of ‘translation’ – observing how we humans can take whatever we’ve been given and use it to express our own deeper truths in our own way. Joyous Gospel music is entirely different from solemn Gregorian chant, but both are ways of expressing the same story.
How many ways are there to kneel and kiss the ground? Rumi asks. How many ways to use the gifts of this world?
I think about that while pulling dandelions by their strong taproots. On the one hand, I am clearing space for Deb’s choice of flowers, but dandelions are actually potent medicinal plants, not to mention beautiful meadow flowers in the rolling green grass of springtime Vermont. I could just as easily be harvesting them for medicine, or putting them in a vase. Who says they don’t belong?
So these days I wonder a lot about being creative with what we’ve got – like Trump, for example - since everything has a purpose in the larger scheme of things, and even the most intrusive of weeds may be an important element of some new medicine we have still to discover.
For example, I went canoeing this week in the northern lake region of Vermont with my old friend Wendy – we had a whole lake to ourselves because the summer season has not yet officially started - and unpacking our first picnic lunch, we realized neither of us had thought to bring utensils. No way to cut bread, spread peanut butter, scoop jam. But we had celery stalks! So these became our spoons, dippers and spreaders. When they became sticky with peanut butter, hummus and grape jam at the end of our lunch we ate them up and had a whole new culinary experience! Raw green veggie, peanuts, beans, olive oil, lemon, garlic and grapes in a single bite was a new taste sensation I would never have thought to put together.
The origin of tapas!
Artists have always known how to use whatever was available to create their works of art, from patchwork quilts designed from worn out pants to symphonies based on folksongs. Using their creative imaginations, they took what was there and used the elements in a new way, like stepping stones to something deeper, delivering messages to us that touched their own hearts and souls, and thus, ours.
Every one of us is an artist, Alonzo King says, and it may be more important than ever to get creative, as the challenges are coming at us like fastballs across the tennis net. With the will to do so, we can use that same energy and bat the balls back across the net hard with all the ingenuity we can muster. Not to do harm in turn, but to create new beauty brilliantly.
The energies of outrage and despair are potent, but we are ingenious people and know how to substitute life force and passion for impotent anger; we know how to choose loving relationship over isolation and despair.
Who knows, maybe that’s what this time is really all about? What if we stepped back and took a look at the larger context, the longer arc of change we find ourselves in the midst of? What if we trusted that there might well be a greater meaning to this time in the world, and that what is happening is more of an opportunity than a mistake?
Who knows, maybe Trump, more of a parody than anything believable, is a great actor and part of a much larger production designed to help us wake up?
If so, than we might as well have a good laugh and be energized, rather than siphoning all that good energy into impotent despair.
As I see it, this is happening in my lifetime and I don’t want to waste my time on this extraordinary planet being in despair. This is our life and why not take on the challenge and get creative with it? Trump or not, we’re the cast in a great show, our chance is Now and there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I am falling on my knees…and hear the angel voices…