Monday, April 27, 2009


Flowering Dogwood

I love the concept of reconciliation. Some of my favorite OED definitions:
1. a. trans. To bring (a person) again into friendly relations to or with (oneself or another) after an estrangement.
b. To recommend, make agreeable.
2. a. To set (estranged persons or parties) at one again; to bring back into concord, to reunite (persons or things) in harmony.
b. To restore to purity, to absolve or cleanse.
c. To make atonement.

At-one. To return.

This afternoon I had a phone call from a friend. We worked together one summer--I had known her before and she helped work this opportunity for me. It turned out to be a very long, difficult, black hole of a summer, and the nature of our assignments put a very heavy strain on our friendship. I wondered if we would ever really be friends again. We had seen each other at conferences and we actually had a great evening together this winter when she was in town. She actually provided me with an immense emotional support in my own time of trouble, which I didn't even realize I really needed, let alone from her. But oh how I drew upon her and her own experience of past trouble.

So when she called me this afternoon and asked me to lead her panel session at a conference, I was touched. I feel like we've come full circle. She trusts me; I respect her. We have reconciled our differences.

One of my favorite movies is The Painted Veil, with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. They worked through one of those heart-wrenching reconciliations that makes for a great movie complete with incredible Chinese scenery and fantastic costumes. And provokes an immense amount of thought. Why is this return, this reunion, this reconciliation, so vital to our relationships, to our own personal well-being, to our purpose in life? Why must it be heart-wrenching?

I've come to the conclusion that a true reconciliation involves a complete change of heart, a submission, a letting-go of expectation and hurt and the past. It means turning instead to the future. To hope. To believe and to achieve an even higher level of charity.

I love that I live in an area right now blanketed with dogwood blossoms. As one of the last blooms of spring, the dogwood, while perhaps not as exciting as those first cherry blossoms, certainly symbolize an extension of the rebirth of spring. And for that reason I love them.

There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber of the cross. To be used thus for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this, and in His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering said to it: "Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross. ..two long and two short petals. And in the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Virginia is for Runners (and lovers. please.)

Last weekend my friend Emily and I ran the Charlottesville 1/2 marathon. Ah, the glory of spring in rural Virginia! I am in love! I love the rolling hills (yes, they kicked me!), the fields, the windy roads, the blossoms. Oh the blossoms!

No, I didn't PR. But that run made me want to PR. I've never really cared about setting a time goal--I've been running a pretty regular 10-minute mile. But now I want to stretch and improve and push myself.

And I want to run another marathon. With my sister. In St. George. Please let us get in. But not until I have advanced to candidacy. It will be my reward. Those long runs, those moments of runner-surges, that serenity, that push and rush and feel of wind in my hair and muscle and blood pounding.
When Emily and I realized that we were only 4 miles from Monticello, we stopped in for a visit. I loved so much about it. I love how innovative Jefferson was--architecture, desk supplies, the Declaration of Independence, you know. Virginia IS for runners--road races and nations.
Last fall they planted 7,000 tulip bulbs... and last Saturday they were in full bloom...

Now... Virginia for lovers... I believe it...
Seriously there was a dog in a special dog stroller... NOT a Virginia runner... OR lover...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts on Easter... a few days late

So I had a cultural exchange with an embassy and an Egg-stravaganza on Saturday... 3 big meal events (to which I took Chinese dumplings for brunch, carrot cake for lunch, and funeral potatoes for dinner!) and an Easter program narration and choir on Sunday... and a prospectus due to my study group last night... so here, at long last, because I know you are standing by (to use the words of Wolf Blitzer, thanks to Jill who gave me a fancy Wolf Blitzer bookmark)...I believe in the power of paradox. For some reason that has been the Easter message reverberating through my thoughts this season. I mean there is the obvious: death to life, night to day, winter to spring. And the abstract: despair to hope, bitterness to love, empty to full.
We found the most incredible neighborhood of cherry blossoms--Kenwood, in Bethesda--seriously, the White Way of Delight

I'm so grateful that Easter comes around once a year. And, in reality, I need it more often, because my life is full of paradox. The Easter process needs to become more constant in my life, which means I need to open my eyes and my ears and my heart to experience it more often.Tidal Basin--one of the most magical places on earth during the Cherry Blossom Festival. One of my most favorite DC moments...

I love this Christina Rossetti poem, shared by Matt Bowman. I think it expresses my thoughts. You really should read it aloud. Go on... it must be savored orally...

Resurrection Eve

He resteth: weep not;
The living sleep not
With so much calm.
He hears no chiding
And no deriding,
Hath joy for sorrow,

For night hath morrow,

For wounds hath balm,

For life's strange riot

Hath death and quiet.

Who would recall him

Of those that love him?

No fears appall him,

No ills befall him;

There's nought above him
Save turf and flowers
And pleasant grass.

Pass the swift hours,

How swiftly pass!

The hours of slumber

He doth not number;

Grey hours of morning
Ere the day's dawning;
Brightened by gleams

Of the sunbeams,

By the foreseeing

Of resurrection,

Of glorious being,

Of full perfection,

Of sins forgiven

Before the face

Of men and spirits;

Of God in heaven,

The resting-place

That he inherits.

I believe the value of Easter comes in the understanding the need to wait for it. To be patient. To know that things will be made right and life and hope and love and truth will come. It's in that moment when I decide to hold it out, to see the light and the buds and the beginnings of it. That is why I share this other poem, also shared by Matt, by T.S. Eliot.

From "East Coker."

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Proud Tax-Paying American

I don't know how this season got away from me. Ok--let's be honest. Of course I know. I'm in school and I also embrace life and love social activities. That's how April 15 has crept upon me.

That and I started doing my taxes a couple of weeks ago. It was late one night and I had a nagging burden hanging over me, so I tried to tackle it. I became very discouraged when I realized that I owed money this year.

How could that be, you may ask? Ask away. I did, too, and found no answers. It's not like I had any kind of sudden salary increase or change of personal profile. I didn't buy a house and thank goodness I didn't suffer in Midwestern floods or tornadoes. None of that. I just lived my life. Even if it is by sale items and coupons (last Friday I spent $20 at Harris Teeter and saved $17!!)

And when it came down to the actual paying, I realized that I had money in my account, that payment was possible. Even if it does stretch me to my next paycheck and rent and stuff.

But more than that, I realized that I am proud to say that I pay my taxes. I contribute. I support my government (although I do not always agree with everything). One day if I'm ever asked to fill a Cabinet post (hmmm.... I don't even know which one I would even want!), I will not have the lurking problem of tax evasion in my file.

There's something refreshing about accountability, about standing up and being counted, about contributing. Too bad the blessings of being a full tax-payer don't necessarily equate with those of paying a full tithe.

And I'm convinced that I had enough to pay my taxes BECAUSE I've been paying my tithing all along...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The High Road

What exactly does it mean to take the higher road?I think by definition it means there is a lower road and that a choice has been made to take the higher road. Sometimes one has to travel that lower road in order to acknowledge it is lower and to seek the higher.
I think it also means taking higher ground. Safer ground. Avoiding the drowning floods and storms that can knock you off your foundation. Sometimes it's a matter of safety and escaping danger. Your own personal danger. Fleeing the floodwaters. OR taking that step into the Red Sea and watching the waters part to save you from that which is encroaching from behind. Deliverance.
Sometimes I think it's a matter of removing yourself from the situation. Even if that means being alone. It's forging ahead. It's pressing forward. And not turning back. I love the James Taylor song:

Walk down that lonesome road, all by yourself.
Don't turn your head back over your shoulder.
And only stop to rest yourself when a silver moon
Is shining high above you.

I think the high road is also found in our interaction with others. I love what Marvin J. Ashton said:
Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.
I think taking the higher road means stretching outside of oneself, of recognizing a higher power, of drawing upon the grace that is so readily available. Sometimes it means keeping your mouth shut. Sometimes it means opening your heart and listening. Sometimes it means apologizing. Sometimes it means putting off the lower road feelings of hurt, anger, disappointment, malice, and getting yourself on the high road, putting on mercy, humility, forebearing (one of my new favorite words), and, most importantly, charity--that mantle of perfectness. Completeness. Wholeness.

I must sequester myself. I've GOT to write my prospectus and take care of some stuff. If you can't find me, I'll be on the high road.

Friday, April 03, 2009

That Little Ray of Sun

Swan Valley, Montana, spring 2008--another rainy day

Do you ever have times in your life where the same ridiculous thing happens to you over and over? Kind of like a pattern? It reminds me of the story Jeffrey R. Holland tells of packing up his car to drive his family East to graduate school and a new life, and the car breaks down twice in the same spot, leaving him very discouraged and downtrodden. What are the chances?

I found myself in that rut. Again. It happened again. Is it irony? Is it a joke? Is there something wrong with me?

This morning after I dropped off Janiece at the Library of Congress, I drove home in a torrential downpour. It was raining so hard I could hardly see straight as I scurried home to prepare for a digital history conference. As soon as I was alone in the car I found the tears pouring out of my eyes. Streaming. Gushing. Before I knew it, there was a veritable rain storm inside as well as outside. I could barely see straight. It's been a long week and it's not over, and yet some crazy new information yesterday sort of threw me off, leaving me with a lot of questions and a lot of "stuff." I was flooded--both physically and emotionally.

The best part? After changing into "presentation" mode, I grabbed my umbrella and raced out the door for some last-minute preparation at my office. The deluge of rain? Gone. The sun was suddenly out, the sky blue, and the beautiful spring blossoms of Washington that I love so much were in full force. I gingerly hopped through the mud and puddles to get into my car, but I actually had to put on sunglasses.

I suppose spring in order to be spring needs those moments of torrential downpour. And the value of the skies parting is only of value when there is a storm. I just know that that ray of light, although fleeting, is a pattern in my life, too. I can count on seeing that over. And over. And over.