Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sticky Subject

or Cowboys: They Knew What They Were Doing

The desert will make you appreciate Western wear like nothing else.  The dust will have you yearning for a bandana, the sun for a 10-gallon hat, the rattlesnakes for sturdy, knee-high boots (and a horse), the cholla for waist-to-ankle leather chaps.  After visiting the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with my sister's family over the Thanksgiving holiday, I have a new respect for cowboys and their ilk—for anyone, in fact, who traversed this landscape in anything softer than a tank.

If you lack an armored vehicle or traditional Western garb for protection, of course, paved trails and a nature center with drinking fountains are the next best thing.  On a mild November day perfect for picnicking on sunny benches with views, you don't actually even need a hat—just cheese sandwiches, homemade dill pickles, and good company.  I'd only seen the Chihuahuan desert before from the shelter and distance of a car, but my experience of the high desert area around Albuquerque is that it doesn't yield its best from a distance.  It's only when you see it from as close as its spines, thorns, barbs, and teeth will allow that you glimpse how delicately beautiful it really is.

The Chihuahuan desert is the same. Take the ocotillo, for example, one of  the signature plants of the area.  Seen in the far distance, it looks like an upside down rag mop in a fit.  From the middle distance, it looks more like what it is:  a bunch of sticks with really big thorns.  Close up, however, the branches and thorns take on lovely colors, making exquisite play with gentle shades of plum.  They remind me of some of the stronger, tougher people I know—the kinds of stoics who can take anything on the chin and who could dish out serious damage if they chose; their gentleness melts your heart.

I have yet to see an ocotillo in leaf or bloom, but I suspect that if I did, I would fall in love outright.   

That's the thing with the desert:  all the good things in it are just so hard to get to.  It demands that you look closer but also that you keep your distance.  It can dazzle you with its strength, adaptability, and beauty, but it puts up barriers to knowledge that stop you in your tracks.  It is vibrant and alive, but it gives you every reason to leave it alone.  And it richly rewards you for your faith in it, for giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Wait—are we talking about people again?


A P.S. to my last post:  Vegemite with cranberry salsa—it's not as bad as you'd think.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the Edge of Utopia

or E Pluribus Unum

The only bow I'm taking in the direction of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, this Thanksgiving:  dried cranberries.  The other ingredients for the salsa—oranges from California, pecans from Georgia, red chile powder from here in New Mexico—come from parts of the country that never really had a share in the narrow slice of history behind Thanksgiving Day.  While the locavore in me—the part that believes in eating foods grown as locally as possible, with the emphatic exception of coffee—is appalled at the distance these foods have traveled to be prepared in my kitchen, the American quite likes the "melting pot" aspect to this side dish.  It is sweet and savory, tart and spicy.  It goes amazingly well with everything.*

Since moving to New Mexico, I've looked at Thanksgiving with new eyes.  Several of my acquaintances have ancestors who came over with the Conquistadors, who weren't exactly proponents of religious freedom.  They were here to find wealth and make converts, both by force.  They were soldiers or priests, with the power of the Crown and the Pope behind them, and they were here decades before the Puritans established the Plymouth colony.  Yet, 450 plus years later, their descendants serve turkey and cranberries (and probably posole) with enthusiasm.

Other acquaintances are Navajo or Pueblo Indians.  They are twice separated from the Thanksgiving story:  their experience of Europeans was Spanish, not British, and in any case, they see little cause to be thankful for the invasion of their lands and the decimation of their peoples.  They may observe Thanksgiving with caveats—with an awareness of loss that cuts to the bone—yet many of them observe it.  Like the Spaniards' descendants, they, too, might serve posole, a native food.  Their thanks-givings foreground a joyful recognition of harvest, and they acknowledge centuries' worth of pain without closing the door to hope.  They balance the need for change with keeping the faith, with taking the steps so that harmony can prevail.

I asked an acquaintance—a descendant of Coronado—why he embraced Thanksgiving so heartily, when it wasn't the history of his ancestors.  He said, "Because I'm American, so it is my story, and it's such a great story to boot."

And it is a great story, the way it was taught to us in childhood.  At its core, Thanksgiving is all about a belief in Utopia—a Utopia that we ourselves can bring into being.  We absorb that myth of Thanksgiving in our first years of school.  We learn about the Pilgrims fleeing persecution because of their beliefs, and about their first horrible winter of privation, illness, and death in the New World; about the kindness of Tisquantum (Squanto) and the Wampanoag peoples in sharing their know-how, which helped create a glorious harvest the next year; and about how all sat down together to enjoy the blessings of friendship and plenty, knowing that the coming winter would be a better one.  And beyond that, who could say?  It was a whole New World out there, and anything could happen—with a little hard work, a little friendship, and by the grace of God, Utopia was theirs to create.

Of course, as we grow older, we discover that the myth is, in fact, mythical.  The meal was not a meeting of equals and, though relations between the initial colony and the Wampanoag were relatively  peaceful for 50 years, it hardly presaged harmony among nations; the persecution of the Puritans in England was as much political as it was religious, and the Puritans were happy (in a dour sort of way) to persecute others in their turn; the New World had a horrible dark side of slavery and genocide; and Utopia turned out to be a pipe-dream, in part because it was envisaged by Puritans, who wouldn't have recognized Utopia if it had bitten them in...some place that they probably wouldn't have approved of.

But we still grew up believing in that story, no matter what part of the country we grew up in, or what our personal history; just as we embrace all kinds of stories, not only the ones that pertain directly to us.  For a day, even if only deep-down, we imagine what it must be like to sit on the edge of a continent, purposefully putting the past behind us, knowing that none of the former rules need apply; knowing also that while the risks of death and disaster are great, the possibilities are just as endless; that we can create a world that reflects our deepest values, and not just the history we've inherited; that while that future might sink before our limitations, it also might rise beyond our grandest dreams.  (And the dreams in such a situation can be grand indeed.)  Underlying every Thanksgiving dinner, no matter how deeply, and if only for a day, the heart of that myth endures:  a respect for past sacrifice, a joy in current plenty, and a belief that the future is still a whole New World—that anything can happen.

My favorite Thanksgiving happened while I was a graduate student, when I was one of only two or three Americans at a long table of celebrants.  World accents as rich and savory as the American turkey, the Israeli lamb and couscous, the Welshman's mushy peas, the Italians' handmade pasta, enlivened the meal.  It was every bit as American a Thanksgiving as the ones I had experienced in my parents' home—as American as cranberry salsa, as we like to say—because of the spirit of adventure and discovery and camaraderie we all shared.

Because of our belief that tomorrow could well be a whole new world, and that anything might happen.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

* My sister (in whose home I'll be spending Thanksgiving) has Vegemite on hand, and I admit to some serious doubts about how well cranberry salsa will go with Vegemite.  If the results are not too graphic, I will report on them in a footnote sometime next week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give Me Shelter

or A Nook in the Middle of Nowhere

The wind chimes are jangling frantically, chaotically.   In a gentle breeze, their tones ring true, but not in a blast like this one.   The wind is back in force after a few days' lull, this time heralding a cold(ish) front on the horizon.  From the kitchen, I can hear it battering at the windows.  The damper on the vent above the stove "chk"s constantly, like the hi-hat on a drum set.  The glass in the porch light rattles.  The slight gap between the front door and its frame (which for reasons I won't bore you with can't be properly weather-stripped) whistles, anticipating the tea kettle, which is just coming to a boil.

I'm curled up on the bench by the kitchen window, watching the wind scything through the garden, and am intrigued by how irregular its pattern is.  One tree is quivering along its full length, its upper branches whipping wildly.  Eight feet away, the tree closer to the house is almost still.  The autumn sage and rue along the east wall are all but flattened; the sand cherry beside them dances frenziedly.  Right next to it, in the corner, another sand cherry waves a bit in rhythm but otherwise seems unaffected, while the oregano seed heads in the bed across the path swirl in fits and starts.  I am always realizing anew just how tiny the "micro" in micro-climate can be.  The garden has all the dead corners, active spaces, open sweeps, channels, and funnels of a pinball machine.

Still intrigued, I pick up my mug of tea and walk out into the garden.  After righting a footstool and rescuing a seat cushion from the autumn sage (or alternatively, rescuing the autumn sage from a seat cushion), I start around the circle path.  My hair whooshes into an Einsteinian mop; my eyes are half-shut against blowing dust, and one hand covers the mouth of my mug.  I approach the south wall and kneel down, wanting to inspect the tarragon in the central bed for frost damage.  (None yet.)  As soon as my head drops below the height of the wall—it's quiet.

It's so quiet.

For whatever reason, this is one of those spots that the wind—or at least, this wind—can't reach.  In the middle of a windstorm, in the middle of a garden path, it is warm and calm and sheltered.  If I stretch out my hands in any direction, my fingertips will brush blowing leaves.  Above the wall, tree tops reel drunkenly.  But right here, in this little two-foot area out in the open, the wind doesn't come.

Astonished, I sit cross-legged on the path and try a sip of tea.  Sir Marley, who has been curled up under the sand cherry (the blasé one, not the frenziedly dancing one), uncurls and stretches laconically before moseying over to rub his head against my hand.  (The one holding the hot mug of tea, of course.)  I begin to understand his smugness—the extra smugness that doesn't just come from his being a cat.  Even though none of this is my doing, I still feel rather pleased with myself, like a child building a fort out of a blanket and a chair and hiding gleefully in plain sight.

Tea finished, I brave the wind again to return to the house, while Sir Marley takes over my spot.  I right the footstool again and rescue the cushion, this time weighting it down with a rock.  I duck into the kitchen, lock the door, and settle back into the nook by the window.  The door frame whistles, the glass rattles, the vent "chk"s, the wind chimes jangle.

On the path in the garden, Sir Marley curls back up to sleep.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Wind Blows Where It Will

or Mapmaking for Beginners

Suddenly, today, Renaissance cartography all makes sense.  You're probably familiar with the kinds of maps I'm thinking of—beautiful woodcuts from the early days of European empire, shortly after the discovery of the New World.  Blobs with randomly scalloped edges depict the continents.  Waves and the occasional sea-monster disturb the oceans, emphasizing the terrors of the deep.  Grumpy, bodiless, messy-haired gods personify the winds.  They puff out their cheeks and blow strongly and visibly in the directions of the compass rose.

All to say, it's been windy lately, and I'm ready to do some personifying.  The wind the last few days has been a capricious one, with whims and moods and changes of heart, possibly even ADHD.  It's the kind that picks up loose drifts of leaves, whirls them into mid-air and sends them spinning across the street, and just as suddenly loses heart and lets the leaves lapse into drifts again.  It grabs hold of a flock of blackbirds and tosses them into an updraft, where they swirl helplessly until the eddy falters, freeing them to huddle in the closest tree.  It plays with skirt hems and old newspapers, seed pods and dusty roads, tree branches and telephone lines, fingering everything with an insatiable curiosity (while it lasts), teasing, questing. It isn't a storm wind, but still one that would make setting out to sea in search of a new world seem like a Very Bad Idea.

It's a wind that keeps us all busy.  As I walk back from the mailboxes, I'm trying to keep my skirt at bay with one hand while clenching the mail with the other and holding the keys in my teeth.  The neighbor's miniature dachshund is perched on a patio table, her nose working frantically to process all the wind-borne information; she is clearly ready to explode with excitement.*  The blackbirds make occasional attempts to go wherever it is that blackbirds want to go, flapping with all their might to no purpose before subsiding into their tree again.  The inanimate world looks perilously close to being animated.

One knows that it is just wind, a product of high and low pressure systems coming to grips, or something of that meteorological sort.  Isobars might come into play (N.B.:  a handy NY Times crossword puzzle word to remember, even if we don't really know how to use it correctly), but probably not grumpy demi-gods.  Yet the wind is so willful that it seems like the product of some sentient being.

This is where I draw the line between myself and Renaissance cartographers.  (The Cartographers' Motto:  You have to draw the line somewhere.)  If I were planning to risk my life crossing the Atlantic in some wooden planks with a sail or two on top, or to send my ship/collection of wooden planks on such a voyage, or to fund it, I'd probably portray the wind as being pretty irascible, with god-like powers (and ferociously messy hair) myself.  As it is, I'll be hanging out inside a nice warm house in a fuzzy bathrobe this evening.  I can afford to see it more generously, not as an inimical, superhuman being, but as, say, a golden retriever puppy of a wind—one that doesn't know its own strength yet and that has no fine (or even large) motor control, allowed out off the leash after a long, cooped-up day.  One moment it slams into you, robbing you of breath; the next it comes and whuffles enthusiastically in your hair.  It flings itself headlong after a scent and then suddenly can't remember what it was doing and so flings itself headlong just for joy.  It wreaks havoc with your garden, your patio furniture, your outfit, and your sanity, but it doesn't actually mean any harm.  Good luck calling it to heel—when it comes, you will be bowled over, laughing.

I've been fascinated this week by the way early modern maps combine fantasy, experience and geography:  they actually show weather conditions, risk, and adventure in more detail than they show the land.  A plan of Albuquerque drawn in the same spirit might show, instead of leviathans, signs saying "Here Be Scary Drivers;" instead of waves, seas of potholes and undulating orange construction flags.  The actual streets wouldn't be labeled—but then, so few of them are.  Golden retrievers would sit, panting, on the outskirts of the map.  Or, if we were to stay with demigods, possibly the ambivalent, boundary-pushing trickster, Coyote...

Now there's an adventure waiting to happen.

* But then, she is always ready to explode with excitement.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laying the Groundwork

or Hangin' Out with Some Buds

The leaves are such a rust-red that I almost expect them to creak on little hinges.   Instead they teeter silently, precariously.   At a breath, one of them falls, making just the slightest hiss as it strikes home.   Autumn has taken hold in earnest now, and the sand cherry's rich russet warms its niche in the garden.   The color is an arresting testimony to the season on its own, but it also lets the deeper chestnut of the stems speak more clearly.  As I approach to enjoy their resonance, I am struck unexpectedly by the tangential suggestion of spring.  Even as the leaves die, the buds are swelling.  For some reason I find these preparations for the coming year, this faith in growth, oddly touching.


Ipheion, or starflower, is a spring-blooming bulb with pale blue flowers atop grassy stems.  (The flower in Microcosm's header is an ipheion.)  Its leaves come up early in September and linger throughout the winter months.  They look more like grass than the actual grass in this neck of the desert—they are kelly green rather than sage, and they grow in thick, spreading tufts.  When bruised, they give off a slightly fetid smell, like chives that have gone over to the dark side, but they are pleasant to look at all winter.  In spring the leaves have the decency to wither soon after the flowers do, since they will gather all the nutrients they need the following fall.


 I still have Alison Krauss's Steel Rails running through my head:
Steel rails, chasin' sunshine 'round the bend,
Winding through the trees like a ribbon in the wind.
I don't mind not knowin' what lies down the track,
'Cause I'm lookin' out ahead to keep my mind from turnin' back.

That phrase "lookin' out ahead" has stayed with me all week.  I've been thinking about the contrast between my little road trip last weekend, with its own take on looking ahead—a mixture of adventure, the chase, and escapism—and the garden's preparations for spring.  Generally when I think about plants heading for the shady side of autumn, I think of them as battening down the hatches—hauling in all the paraphernalia of growth and hunkering down in their roots to ride out the storm.  Since my garden is too small for generalities, however, we are left with particulars, and they don't always bear that image out.  Instead we find plants actively preparing for spring, laying in stores, and looking beyond the fallow period to the next season of growth and bloom.  They are not only caulking the windows; they're also plowing the ground. 

This expectation of goodness to come is not "chasing sunshine's" elusive dream—a quest for that better world always just around the bend—but solid, reliable optimism based on the gene-deep knowledge that seasons turn; on the certainty that spring will, in fact, come again.

I have often thought of gardeners' forward-looking tendencies as a kind of denial of winter deadness.  As I've been slowly getting bulbs planted this fall, I've come to see that tendency instead as a way of laying the groundwork for spring; ensuring that dearth will give way to abundance, to crocuses, Siberian squill, starflowers, lady tulips.  It's about knowing yourself, about looking ahead to your longings for growth, and taking the steps to meet those longings while you can.  It's yet another of gardening's lessons in hope, but also a lesson in realism, in preparation.

On the other hand, marking off the days on the calendar until the seed catalogs arrive in about six weeks—that's denial.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Change in Perspective

or From Inside Out

I celebrated fall this week by cleaning the kitchen window.   The screen has been surgically extracted and stored in the garage, the panes have been rinsed and shined inside and out, and the cushions on the bench next to the kitchen window have been plumped and poofed.  We are ready for cold weather to set in.

The kitchen window is the only one in my little townhouse that offers a view of the garden, or of anything besides urban hardscape.  Elsewhere on the ground floor, the view is mostly of concrete sidewalks, gravel drives, cinder block yard walls, and stucco house walls.  The postage-stamp front and side landscape beds are tiny, tiny, tiny.  Small shrubs and perennials do well in them, but they are too small to be visible from the interior.  And once it gets cold, we're all about interiors.

So the kitchen bench and kitchen window have officially been prepped to be sat on and looked out of, respectively.*  In a mild sort of way, it's nice to see things from a new angle—and a definite pleasure to see them cleanly and clearly.  Without a scrim of dust and water spots, suddenly I am aware of the patio table looking more ornamental than functional; of the colors in the micro-garden, backlit by the morning sun;  of the trees, seen obliquely to the patio's "queen's eye view."  The process has set me to thinking in a mild sort of way about angles, viewpoints, perspectives:  the difference in looking out at the garden from shelter rather than experiencing it directly; the perception of the garden—the outdoors—as the storm rather than the haven; the sense almost of alienation—that now, officially, the indoor and outdoor worlds are separate from one another, with stern partitions between them, rather than the open screens that allow interior and exterior to blend, minus the wasps.

Vision is such a distancing sense.  All the others—hearing, touch, taste, smell—bring sensation to your body; only vision sets things apart from you.  My writing, my inspiration for the last few months, has relied on direct experience:  the idiosyncrasies of fall-blooming crocuses, the hot air balloons drifting overhead, the flight of the sandhill cranes.  Much of the experience has been visual, yes, but vision rested in a rich context and was rendered all the more savory by the other senses—the perhaps sub-conscious awareness of a warm breeze, the background music of finches and bumblebees, the random exclamation points provided by hummingbirds.  Soon, vision will be standing on its own most of the time.

As someone whose blog is not about the garden per se, but whose writing is largely drawn from experiences in the garden, and as someone who has committed to posting twice a week, I'm curious how the next few months will pan out.  Mind you, we just had our first frost last night and still have several weeks before the real "dead of winter" strikes.  Wild Thing autumn sage will probably bloom until Christmas, winter will last long enough for me to get the pruning done, and at that point the crocuses will be coming up.  This isn't exactly Alaska.  But still—if you find me yakking for the sake of yakking (that is, more than is required by the very idea of blogging), or just writing to fulfill my quota, even if I have nothing particular to say, feel free to let me know.

In a mild sort of way.  : )


* If anyone can think of a way to turn those phrases so that they don't end in a preposition or two, I would love to hear it.  On a side note, E. B. White once offered an example of a perfectly clear sentence that ended in five prepositions.  Picture a little boy going upstairs to bed whose father wants to read him a bedtime story that the boy doesn't like.  The boy says, "What did you bring that book I don't want to be read to out of up for?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Thrill of the Chase

or The Leaves Are Always Yellower on the Other Side of the Bosque

Yesterday I found myself singing Steel Rails, one of my favorite Alison Krauss songs:  "Steel rails, chasin' sunshine 'round the bend, winding through the trees like a ribbon in the wind."  I love that image of chasing sunshine—the gleam of sunlight on the railroad tracks always just ahead of you, the endless promise of brightness just ahead.  Yesterday was a sunshine-chasing kind of day.  The weather was so gorgeously warm and fine and the cottonwoods so deeply golden, that a certain itchy-footedness set in.  I ended up heading down to Bosque del Apache, a nature preserve about 85 miles south of Albuquerque, following the ribbon of cottonwoods along the Rio Grande all the way down I-25.

When I've been to the preserve before, it's been in the dead of winter, usually on a vacation day in the middle of the week, and the place has been quiet and empty.  On a beautiful Saturday shortly after the arrival of the sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other migrating birds, it was busy with life of all sorts:  serious birdwatchers, including a pair with binoculars bigger than their sunhats; serious photographers with tripods and lens hoods, including one whose setup was practically bigger than his car (and who probably found me, with my little point-and-shoot, equally entertaining); serious bicyclists bravely eating road dust and looking happy about it; not-so-serious families entranced by shimmering dragonflies; totally unserious teen-agers riding in the back of a pickup truck; serious joggers looking uncomfortably warm but virtuous.  Ostensibly, they were all there for a particular purpose, but at heart I suspect that, like me, they were really out there chasing sunshine.  (The joggers may even have caught up to it.)

Chasing sunshine:  tracking down the perfect day that's just beyond the next hill, the perfect photograph with exactly the right light, the ideal turn of phrase that's on the tip of your tongue, the cottonwood tree that's so golden it takes your breath away, the ducks (there is no elegant word for a duck) that might, perhaps, just on the offchance, for a few seconds, have their heads out of water.

Of course, the whole process can also be pretty pointless—an exercise in dream-chasing when reality is perfectly satisfactory.  As one of our "sorbet-colored sunsets" (as a local writer likes to call them) poured through the driver's side window on the way home, I found myself wondering what I had accomplished, other than to tire myself out when I could have enjoyed totally adequate—nay, the exact same—sunshine in Albuquerque, where we also have a plentiful supply of cottonwoods and as many duck bottoms to look at as anyone really needs, with a lot less dust.

I guess sometimes you just want the thrill of the chase.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dona nobis pacem

or That of God


It is easy to be at peace when the world is still.  Easy, on a golden day in an unusually warm autumn, nestled into the shelter of the garden.  The leaves aren't particularly vivid this year, but their colors are warm—sienna and ocher, earth tones that soothe rather than dazzle.  Occasionally a leaf falls, riding a light current of air before landing, beached, among its drifted kin.  Sir Marley snuggles up to the west-facing garden wall.  Although the house shades the wall by mid-afternoon, it still breathes out a gentle warmth until dusk.  The cat's front paws curl underneath him; he blinks contentedly at nothing.  For some reason the way he looks off into the distance makes me think of a haiku, a poem whose simple words gesture toward something beyond them in the silence.


The Quakers—or Friends, as they prefer to be called—cherish silence deeply.  In the Friends' view, it is by centering down into quietness, by listening for the still, small voice, that we become attuned to the ways of God.

I considered myself a Friend for several years, but lately I haven't been so sure.  I wonder whether my reticence isn't really a form of rebellion against silence in general.  I may have come to value the quietness that illness has forced upon me, but to seek out more of it when what I really crave is a little noise and bustle and excitement—at this point, it's not happening.  So these observations are not coming from someone for whom "way has opened" (as they—we?— say) into peace, or from a "weighty" Friend of measured wisdom and clarity of insight.  They're just things I'm pondering and offer in a spirit of sharing.

George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, wrote to his followers from prison in 1656, encouraging them to "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone." Modern Friends still hold this saying dear, perhaps because it reaches out wide in an age when the world has grown small, when radically different cultures and beliefs bump shoulders in uneasy proximity.

That of God.

At its simplest and broadest, perhaps, the phrase refers to the urge toward goodness, to those actions that partake of love or joy; peace, patience, kindness; gentleness; maturity.  To answer that of God in those around you—to respond to the goodness in them, to speak to what is admirable in them—is to base every action on kinship, on respect.  It is to be generous in giving the benefit of the doubt.

The point of listening in silence for the still, small voice that lies beyond you is to learn to recognize its sound, to know its distinctive timbre even in the midst of noise and activity; to hear the voice of God speaking through a person's life, even when that person differs from you.  Then one can answer in kind.


Today, November 4, 2010, marks the seventh BlogBlast for Peace from MimiWrites—a day when bloggers from around the world all post on the topic of peace. It comes hard on the heels of a more than ordinarily acrimonious election here in the USA, and as I write I find myself thinking less about peace between nations than about peace between neighbors—because frankly, peace among nations seems like the more accessible goal right now.  I have never seen people with so much in common so divided, so entrenched in fear and egotism (why do the two so often go together?), so eager to insult and smear and slam doors, so loathe to engage in discussion, so unwilling to bridge differences. 

The BlogBlast's theme is "Dona nobis pacem"—grant us peace.  I can't say the words without also hearing the round we sang many years ago in high school choir.  I don't normally wax rhapsodic about high school, but experience has taught me what an extraordinary ensemble that choir really was.  Our director had a gift for awakening talent and enthusiasm and for bringing out his singers' best efforts, but he especially had a gift for uniting us that I didn't realize was rare at the time.  While I can remember some petty squabbles and hurt feelings and teenage angst behind the scenes, I don't recall any of the poison and backbiting and spite that can often destroy a group from within.  All of that was checked at the choir room door, because once we started rehearsal, we were there to make music.  Our director filled us with that vision.  He showed us something beyond ourselves.  He taught us to listen to one another for balance and blend, to watch each other's breathing, to pool our resources in a common endeavor.  We respected the different gifts we each brought to the table. 

Our worlds were noisy, full of internal and external commotion, with big and little egos, rank immaturity, raging hormones, and problems of all kinds that loomed over our inexperienced heads.  Yet when we sang "Dona nobis pacem" and our words asked for peace, all along we were engaged in the process of making peace.  We looked beyond ourselves, we listened to each other, we worked together.  I can't help thinking now that what we really did was to answer to that of God in one another.

So yes, dona nobis pacem.  May we have peace, may we be given that grace from beyond us that somehow, miraculously, makes the unlikely all work out.  But in the meantime, let us go make peace, even amid the noise and clamor of a sound-byte world that pits neighbor against neighbor.

Walk cheerfully over the world, my friends, answering that of God in everyone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Step toward Peace

or November 4: Dona nobis pacem

This is just a quick note to let those of you who might worry if I didn't post on my usual Wednesday (hi, Mom and Dad!) know that I'll be posting tomorrow instead for the BlogBlast for Peace.

If you like, you can find out more about the BlogBlast for Peace/Peace Globe Movement here.