Tag Archives: G/Son

Radical Amazement and Undermining the Patriarchy Every Chance I Get (and I Get a Lot of Chances)

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And, so, here we are: the final day of our liturgical year. The end of the end of Summer and the beginning of the beginning of Winter. And I thought that, for my final post of this year, I’d share with you a wonderful essay that Richard Louv recently wrote about religion, spirituality, nature, silence, and amazement.

His emphasis on amazement, especially at this time of year when we focus on death, reminds me, of course, of Mary Oliver‘s wonderful poem, When Death Comes. I particularly love this poem for the lines:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Mr. Louv recounts a conversation about fatherhood that he once had with a rabbi who said that:

to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed. To quote the words of Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great teacher of our age, he said, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.” Heschel would encourage his students to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted: Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

G/Son is turning out to be something of a rather serious fisherman. And so maybe Mr. Louv’s story of his own amazement has a special resonance for me. He writes about waking up one morning to see a spectacular sunrise, trying to wake his sons to see it, and realizing that they needed to sleep. But, he writes:

Since I was a boy, fishing has been my special window to the spirit. It is not the only window, and not for everyone. But for some of us, it is good.

As the day moved from dawn to dusk, I waded into the calm water, lifted the rod[,] and let loose of the line. I watched my boys along the shore. The younger one, who had temporarily given up on fishing, joyfully hauled his catch of the day, an old bucket, across the mud flat. The older boy had taken his rod into a thicket where there was a secluded pool. Perhaps, in that place, he was immersed in that quietest, strongest of voices.

Sometimes the rhythm of the rod is like a chant or the swinging of incense. Sometimes I can almost feel the water bulge and know that a fish is rising beneath it. Now a trout lifted itself, caught the sunset on its orange flank, and[,] above the water[,] stopped in time, as did my children and the world.

And then life went on. In a few hours, the boys and I would begin to miss their mother, and we would head home more amazed by the sunrise and sunset, by light and dark, by small muddy shoes on the stairs or the sound of my wife’s hairbrush, by the smallest of moments.

Whether our window is fishing — or gardening, or dancing, or coding, or knitting, or yoga, or poetry, or music, or rock climbing, or swimming, or painting, or breast feeding, or making love, or weaving, or organizing, or the law — I think that having a “special window into spirit,” is one of the most “radical” things than anyone, and especially we Pagans, can do. It helps us to (to borrow a phrase from Ivo Dominguez) fight off the enchantment of Patriarchy, which tries to make us believe that we are separate from each other, from the world, from nature, from “spirit.” I love the phrase that Louv quotes from his rabbi friend, quoting Rabbi Herschel: radical amazement.

I’m going to practice more of that this coming year. I won’t be gone long. You come, too.

Photo copyright protected. Please do not reproduce or transmit.

Ways in Which Neil Gaiman Is Exactly Like My Father

I’ve been off this week to hang with G/Son and we’ve had a lovely time, doing stuff at home, visiting a garden and a nature center, walking around a book store and laughing at every title that alludes to poop (you’d be surprised how many an eight-year-old can find) and playing card games on the porch. And, yet, this message is never far from my mind:

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I know. I know.

And I will.

But the writing will wait and this little boy will only be with me this one Summer — out of all the Summers in the history of a whole world full of Summers — while he’s eight. While his front teeth are big and his incisors are barely in. While he wants to hear another chapter of The Secret Garden. While he wants to show me the roots growing in the terrarium we made. While he walks through the grocery store to the exact spot where they sell chocolate doughnuts and says, “Nonna! We might need a snack this afternoon! You can have tea and I could have a doughnut!” While he has a summer book report to write on Jackie Robinson. While we can do treasure hunts for fairy treasure. While he wants to walk barefoot through my garden and feed the squirrels. While he runs through my sprinkler, calling football plays, in his shark-printed bathing suit. While he helps me pick basil, eats my pesto, and asks for a second bowl.

So, pace, Mr. Gaiman. I will. I will.

Tomorrow.

May it be so for you.

My World and Welcome to It

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This evening, G/Son was working on a project and I was sitting next to him, knitting and drinking tea. We’d been contentedly quiet for quite some time.

G/Son: Nonna, so what I want to know is: how does magic actually work?

Nonna: Well, I think the way that magic works is that everything is connected. We’re all connected to everything. Like I’m connected to you, and to the oak tree out in the yard, and to the rocks, and to the Moon, and to our blue jay, and everything. It’s like a web that connects everything. And so, if I pluck this strand of the web here, I can make the web vibrate over there. And that’s how I think magic works.

Another period of quiet ensued, G/Son working carefully on his project and Nonna knitting.

G/Son: Wait. Nonna. So that means “everything”? Like you’re connected to that other lawyer who makes you really mad and we’re even connected to Mitt Romney who we wouldn’t vote for?

Nonna: [Here, you must imagine Nonna sighing, and shaking her old head, and sorrowing to have to say this to an eight-year-old] Yes. I know it’s hard. But that’s how magic works. I am even connected to that obnoxious lawyer and we are even connected to Mitt Romney. If you want to work magic, you have to accept that. It won’t work any other way. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

For a few more minutes, there is silence. Nonna sips tea and knits. G/Son works on his project. He silently eats Madelines.

G/Son: That sucks, Nonna. Magic is cool, but being connected to some parts of everything sucks. Can I have another of those biscuits?

Picture found here.

Calling the Elements with a Seven-Year Old

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G/Son: Nonna! Wait! It’s not Fire in the South and Water in the West. It’s Water in the South and Fire in the West.

Nonna: No, I’ve been doing this since before you were born and it’s Fire in the South and Water in the West.

G/Son: No, Nonna, because, just think! Texas and Mexico are west of us and they’re very hot. So it should be Water in the South and Fire in the West.

Nonna: OK, we can do it that way.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t have to hear EVERY SINGLE ONE of my ancestors laughing so hard they have to hold their stomachs.

Picture found here.

Under the Blanket of the Moon and Stars

Sang G/Son to sleep tonight, tucked beneath smooth cotton sheets and heavy blankets. And for a few moments, I am with my mother’s mother’s mothers and with my son’s son’s sons.

When, as I always do when he’s here, I pull the Moon & Stars blanket out of the guest room closet, G/Son says, “Nonna, Who gave that blanket to you?” He knows the answer; we tell this story every time. I say, “Your mommy and daddy gave it to me one year, back before you were even born. Isn’t it pretty?” And I smooth it on top of all the other covers.

And then I say, “Hear the wind outside? It’s cold tonight. We may even have frost in the morning that will kill all the gentle leaves. But here we are, safe inside Nonna’s cottage, in warm pajamas, under warm covers, under even the Moon & Stars blanket. We’re safe, and warm, and dry. You’ve had chicken, and apples, and cheese, and cookies. You’ve had a bath and brushed your teeth. We’ve played Set and Nonna’s read you a chapter of The Secret Garden. And now it’s time for sleep.”

By now, G/Son’s eyelids are drooping, drooping, drooping. And that’s when I sing: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies will be reborn.”

Tomorrow, we’re going to go downtown to see dinosaurs.

May it be so for you.

At Least Believe in Heaven

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When I was in first grade at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Sister Mary Michael took us through the Baltimore Catechism, and one of the things that Sister taught us was that you couldn’t get into heaven unless you were Catholic. Poor little Pisces that I was, I took Religion class incredibly seriously and Sister’s news upset me no end. My dad was Methodist and all I could think was how mean it seemed of God the Father, with his white beard and generally scowling face, to keep my dad out of heaven on such a minor technicality. I did, however, understand hierarchy, even then, so I finally screwed up my courage and asked my dad if he wouldn’t please become a Catholic so that he could get into heaven. I don’t remember much of his long answer to me (the short answer was: “No”), but it did leave me with a startling new idea, which was that not everything Sister said was definitely, absolutely true and that I ought to listen to what she said and ask myself if it made sense. I doubt my dad understood that he was turning his eldest daughter into a Witch.

Sunday afternoon, G/Son came over to stay with me for a while. It was rainy and cold outside and he had a tummy ache (“Too many peanutbutter and Nutella sandwiches,” according to Son), so we stayed inside and played Set and Uno, and watched The Halloween Tree, and had a treasure hunt, and pulled things out of Nonna’s arts and crafts drawers and made pictures with glitter glue, and crayons, and tie-dyed paper, and had a long, steamy bath with the plastic dinosaurs, and put on our soft, warm pajamas, and got under the heavy covers, and read a chapter of The Secret Garden.

G/Son is as excited about Halloween as any seven-year old boy (which is to say: very) and, at one point, he was explaining to me about “Count Dracula.”

“Nonna, know what?”

“No, what?”

“You know Count Dracula?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, Nonna, know what?”

“What?”

“If Count Dracula bites your neck, either you die or you become his minion and, Nonna, do you know which one is worse?”

“No, which one is worse?”

“Being Count Dracula’s minion is worse because if he bites you and you die, you could go to heaven, but if he bites you and you become his minion, then you have to do whatever he says and, when you do die, you have to go to the gates of hell, and not heaven.”

“Hmm. Well, Nonna doesn’t believe in heaven and hell, but I do agree that being Count Dracula’s minion and then dying would be worse than just dying.”

There was a long pause as G/Son clearly tried to figure out how to say what he wanted, processing everything that he’s learned in his nice, Episcopal second-grade class and what he kind of understands about his Nonna’s religion. Finally, he said, in that sincere-little-boy voice that can move anyone who hears it:

“Well, Nonna. At least believe in heaven.”

You know, I love that kid.

Picture found here.

No More Fish

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For the last two months of his Summer vacation, G/Son was traveling. He was in camps, was off to visit his other grandparents, went off to the beach with his ‘rents, etc. And then he was home and busy getting uniforms and school supplies, and starting Second Grade (I know! WTF?!?! I have NO IDEA how that happened so fast and I’m not entirely sanguine about it, let me tell you.) So today was our first day to get together in about as long a time as we’ve ever been apart.

But we picked back up as if we’d seen each other yesterday. When I walked through the door of his house, he was hiding behind the steps and waving one of his Summer acquisitions, a wooden crocodile that wanted to “bite” me so that we could talk about crocodiles. And, on the way to our annual visit to the RenFaire, he read to me from the library book that he checked out from the school library. When we sat down in the lovely Autumn sunshine to eat lunch (shrimp, oysters, & clams), he told me about all the fishing that he did this Summer.

Ancient little Pisces that he is, G/Son has always had an interest in fishing and, this Summer, hanging out on the Jersey Shore and along a river bank in Southern Virginia, he managed to get both of his grandfathers to take him fishing — a lot. I’d seen some pictures on Facebook and heard from his ‘rents about the fishing, but I loved getting to hear about it from G/Son, himself.

(Interestingly, one of the movies that I’d watched this Summer on Netflix was A River Runs Through It, which is ostensibly about fly fishing but is mostly about how men love each other in spite of Patriarchy, and it made me remember how my own dad loved going trout fishing in the Rocky Mountains more than he loved almost anything. It’s as if being alone out in nature were important to men.)

One thing that G/Son was really interested in telling me was that, one Summer night on the Jersey Shore, he caught enough fish (and they were big enough not to have to throw back) that he provided the dinner for his grandads, his dad, and himself.

He had that pride that we all take in being able to put, to use Atrios‘ words, “food on our famibly.” There’s this thing, this amazing feeling, that we get when we look around a table at the people we love and know that they are being fed by our labor.

What I started to say to G/Son was that, if he learned how to fish, no matter what else happened, he would be (child of the Potomac and the Chesapeake) able to feed himself and his family. I wanted to encourage him, to show him that I understood the importance of what he’d spent the Summer learning.

But my words froze in my throat.

All that I could think was that G/Son’s generation is likely to be the last to be able to find dinner in our over-fished oceans. All that I could think was how Fukishama will likely either kill all the fish in the oceans or render them inedible for G/Son’s children. All that I could think was Derrick Jensen, saying that:

If civilization lasts another one or two hundred years, will the people then say of us, ‘Why did they not take it down?’ Will they be as furious with us as I am with those who came before and stood by? I could very well hear those people who come after saying, “If they had taken it down, we would still have earthworms to feed the soil. We would have redwoods, and we would have oaks in California. We would still have frogs. We would still have other amphibians. I am starving because there are no salmon in the river, and you allowed the salmon to be killed so rich people could have cheap electricity for aluminum smelters. God damn you. God damn you all.

In many ways, I find being a Nonna a way to connect with my ancestresses. And, yet, being a Nonna on a dying planet is different. I think that what I need to say to G/Son is that fishing is important, throwing back small fish is important, being out by the Water is important, and knowing when to step away and find food elsewhere is important, too.

It doesn’t make me happy. It just makes me alive, right now. It just makes me the priestess of THIS Earth, no matter how much I’d like to be the priestess of some time a long time ago.