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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

One of the things I hate the most about this pandemic: it’s playing on and heightening all our usual fears.

As a recent divorcée who lives alone, one of my deep fears is disappearing: being forgotten, ignored or simply overlooked. I’ve worked hard to build and maintain my relationships over the last year, and I’m deeply grateful for my community, both local and far-flung – though the loneliness still hits hard sometimes.

Several weeks into quarantine, it became clear I was going to need more than FaceTime dates and Zoom calls to stay connected. Fortunately, several of my girlfriends feel the same, so we’ve been going on walks, either here in Eastie or along the Charles River.

I won’t lie: it’s weird not to be able to hug them, or invite them upstairs for a cup of tea. But these socially-distanced, masked walks are still feeding my soul. We get to soak up the fresh air and (often) the sunshine, trade small anecdotes about our days and/or talk about the big life stuff. Sometimes it’s work and relationships; sometimes general pandemic craziness; sometimes we dive into books or fashion. Being together in person, even from six feet apart, is seriously the best. (The longer evenings also help.)

How are you staying connected in these strange days?

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blessing the boats

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

I’ve come across this poem a few times recently, including on Natalie’s lovely poetry blog. I can think of no better place to be, these days, than “out beyond the face of fear.” Hope you have a peaceful weekend, friends.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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fear choice mountain lyric frame

Last week, I saw an Instagram post from a local friend about a folk concert happening that night in Cambridge. An hour later, my husband called: “Want to go?”

I’d usually say no to anything that started at 9:30 on a Tuesday night (and oh, was I exhausted the next day). But I said yes, and we went. The Arcadian Wild puts on a good show, but the music wasn’t even my favorite part: it was the serendipity.

My friend who invited us knows the two guys in the band from way back: her husband worked with both of them during his youth-minister days in Florida. But it also turns out that Lincoln, the mandolinist, is the son of a couple who are close to some other friends of mine. I texted my friend Frankie to let her know where we were, and whom we were hearing. (She responded with delight.)

As the evening went on, I realized something else: the photo above, which I snapped during a visit to Frankie’s house in West Texas months ago, is a lyric from their song “Rain Clouds.” (I’d been struck by the words, but forgot to ask her about their origin.)

I’ve been gone from Abilene, where I spent my undergraduate (and several more) years, for a while now. But I still go through there at least once a year, and keep in regular touch with many friends from that community. So many of my stories, even now, begin or end in Abilene. And this one struck me as especially sweet: that a line about courage and fear, in the middle of a song about love and friendship, was the latest thread connecting my two lives.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been humming that song ever since.

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autumn sunrise window view trees

I say this every year: I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving. But the weather has turned seasonably chilly, and the signs – including turkey stickers at a wine tasting I went to last week – are everywhere.

Every year mid-November, I perform a few annual rituals: I buy sweet potatoes and chop pecans for the casserole-cum-dessert that is my favorite Thanksgiving dish. (No marshmallows for me, thank you.) I double-check the sign-up list for Turkeypalooza, our annual potluck celebration in the church basement. I shiver as I hurry down the Cambridge streets in my green coat, watching the golden leaves dance and fly off the trees. I queue up the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” and hum Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude.”

This November, I’ve been doing a few new things, like listening to Richard Blanco discuss Merwin’s poem in a recent WGBH segment. I’ve been thinking about how some of my best friends, who moved to Idaho this spring, won’t be with us to celebrate Thanksgiving, for the first time since we all moved to Boston. I’ve been trying to come to grips with the realities of the last year: many things have changed, or been thrown into sharper relief, since the 2016 election. And I’ve been thinking about Wendell Berry.

The title of this post is a line from Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It captures my own struggle over the past weeks and months: how to choose joy, find the silver lining, set my face toward gratitude, while looking steadily at the sobering and often horrifying realities of this world.

It is easy – so easy – to become sad and overwhelmed and terrified by the headlines: natural disasters, infighting and cruelty in Congress, so many stories of horrific sexual violence in this country and elsewhere. Closer to home, I have friends and loved ones who are navigating bad news every day: surgeries, budget cuts at their workplaces, losing beloved pets, struggling through breakups, depression, job hunts. Sometimes it’s a battle to get up and face the day, to consider these facts without becoming paralyzed by them.

ankle boots leaves

I forget, sometimes, that the bright parts of life are just as factual as the tough parts: that the blessings, like my florist’s smile and the taste of Earl Grey (served with good cheer by my folks at Darwin’s) and the arc of a bold blue autumn sky overhead, are as real as the worries that tug at my heart. They are all part of this life, the beautiful and the terrible, the joyous and the disheartening. Sometimes the weight of the darkness threatens to pull me down. But the goodness, the light, is also always there.

“Ask the questions that have no answers,” Berry urges his readers. “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Like all the poets I love, he urges me to pay attention, to keep up the hard and honest work of taking care, to look for and celebrate the sharp, sudden beauty of these days. “Laugh,” he says. “Laughter is immeasurable.” And again: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

This is the challenge, as Lindsey wrote so eloquently last week: to acknowledge the sorrow, sit with the grief, call out the wrongness and work to change what we can, while actively seeking the “glimmers of joy” in our days. To be joyful, though we have considered all the facts – even the ones that make us cringe or roll our eyes or weep. To give thanks for what we have, what we enjoy, what (and whom) we love. For the blessings we have worked for and for those that come unasked, unbidden.

I am finding gratitude, like so many other things, complicated these days. But I also find it important, even vital. This week, before (and after) the turkey and the pies and the hours in the kitchens (mine and others’), I will be choosing to give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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1. I don’t have time.
2. I’m too tired.
3. I’m too busy. (See above.)
4. There are other things I need to do.
5. I’m not feeling inspired today.
6. It’ll never amount to anything.
7. It’s too big for me.
8. No one will want to read it.
9. I’m scared.
10. I’m afraid of failure.

They all really come down to #10.

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The Company is nearing the woods of Lothlorien after Gandalf’s fall in Moria, and here we come to another instance of racism in Middle-earth. Boromir has heard of Lorien that “few come out who once go in, and of that few none have escaped unscathed.” Aragorn corrects him, saying that actually none who enter come out unchanged, but Boromir remains unconvinced. Gimli also is wary; in the beginnings of time Elves and Dwarves were friends, but by the Third Age of Middle-earth, enmity has ruled between them for years.

As we (the readers) know, Lothlorien, like Rivendell, is one of the last great strongholds of light and wisdom in the West. Yet those who are not Elves are often anxious about coming to these places, even to receive rest and a blessing. Why is this? Is it simply a natural fear of the unknown, or has Sauron used his dark devices to plant doubt in the minds of people who were once friends?

To what extent does this happen in our own lives? We fear the unfamiliar, though it holds potential for great blessing, and we hesitate to open ourselves up to new people or situations because of this fear. How much of it is natural, and how much is the work of the Enemy to divide people who could be great influences for good? Something to think about…

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