Circles of Motion

A couple of weeks ago, we were up in Door County for the first official national Indigenous Peoples Day weekend. (Side note: For 60 years, I’ve called this holiday Columbus Day. It might take some effort to recalibrate my mind, to change my language, but it’s worth it to me to be thoughtful and careful about what we call days and people and all sorts of other things.)

Our friends have a home there on the Door County shores of Lake Michigan. We have been fortunate to be able to visit there often for over 30 years. Time slows down while we sit on the deck watching the waves, while we walk the beach, while we read in the gazebo high up on the dune, while we play Scrabble with a view.

In recent years, a pair of bald eagles have been visiting this spot too. They hang out in a tree on the point where the beach juts out into the lake. They fascinate me. They’re huge and graceful and silent as they soar by us. From their perch high up in their tree, they watch the waves, they scan the beach and water for a meal, and I imagine they enjoy the view too.

To celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, Parker Palmer, an author I admire, shared this Eagle Poem by Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate and a Native American. It was a perfect reading for me on that day when I was up close and personal to eagles and to the blessings of sky and beach and lake. The poem spoke to my heart on that day and continues to reach out to me.

As I was sipping tea on the deck one morning, the eagle flew up the beach in front of me and I managed to take this rather blurry snapshot. The blurriness can’t diminish the beauty or gloriousness of the moment in my memory.

One night that weekend, our host was grilling dinner out on the deck and some of us – including a feisty French bulldog puppy named Sunny – were out there with him enjoying the evening. All of a sudden, with a great whooshing sound of wings, a huge owl swooped down and over the assembly and settled onto the beach pine below us. We wondered if the owl thought Sunny would be perfect for his own dinner.

Once again I took another blurry snapshot. I know you can’t see it in the picture, but I’m telling you that our owl visitor is sitting atop this tree:

As Mary Oliver instructs above about the circle of life — the owl and its prey: “What we must do, I suppose, is to hope the world keeps its balance” — but we also know that Sunny’s people have become extra vigilant and will protect the “soft life” of our pleasantly plump puppy pal from becoming an owl meal. What would we have done with our hearts if Sunny had been snatched up by that owl?

And now I circle back to Joy Harjo’s Eagle Poem and its “circle of motion” imagery.

On one of our beach walks that weekend, John spied an interesting phenomenon. Perfect windswept circles had been formed in the sand around clumps of beach grass. I snapped a photo.

And I did a little research. These circles of motion are called “scratch circles” or “scharrkreise” which in German literally mean “scrape circles”. They are formed when plants on sandy shores are flattened by a steady wind. The plants are moved around and around by the wind and because their roots are a fixed point, they end up working like a compass to create circles in the sand.

This phenomenon evokes a prayer, doesn’t it? Like the beach grass, may we be firmly grounded so that even though sometimes we are knocked off balance and flattened by the ravages of life, we may work to see and create circles of motion to bless our world.

“Poems live out on the windy beach in sand patterns drawn by tides and gusts” ~Lauren Daley

Surprised By A Heron

It was a gorgeous autumn day here on Saturday so John and I went up to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We sat on a bench in a relatively secluded spot by a lake and ate a little picnic lunch. We were watching a flock of about 25 geese in the water. Every once in a while a couple would fly away and then another three or so would fly in and join the gaggle in the water. Some geese had graceful water landings. Others not so much. A couple reminded me of the Wilbur character from The Rescuers, a favorite Disney movie from our kids’ childhood.

As we were finishing our lunch and packing up, a heron suddenly swooped in and settled on a rock directly in front of us. She surprised us and I think we surprised her a little too. She definitely was not expecting us to be there. She turned her back on us for several seconds, regained her composure, and then started searching for a snack.

Take a peek at the videos of our heron encounter:

We were mesmerized by her movements and watched her until she wandered away. As we crossed the bridge heading over to the garden’s Evening Island, we saw the heron rise into the sky. She was a long graceful vision.

In our home’s foyer, this artwork hangs above the hallway closet. It’s a replica of a piece of the Celtic scrollwork that surrounds the altar at Old St. Patrick’s Church, our favorite sacred space. Two herons connected by a long ribbon of Celtic knots symbolize eternity and harmony.

I was still thinking about our heron encounter this morning and discovered a website by the Heron and Egret Society which listed several poems Mary Oliver had written about these gorgeous birds. (But of course she did!) This is my favorite of the poems mentioned:

Heron Rises from the Dark Summer Pond

So heavy
is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings

open
and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks

of the summer pond,
and slowly
rises into the air
and is gone.

Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.

And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn’t a miracle

but the common thing,
this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body

into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders signed a joint appeal to the governments of the world to commit to ambitious targets at the U.N. climate conference.

“We have inherited a garden; we must not leave a desert to our children.”

Nature, art, poetry and spirituality all came together for me as I thought about the heron, about being surprised by her appearance, about the joy she brought us, about the beauty of the garden where she feeds, about how important it is to care for our common inheritance, about “how improbable that ascension is not possible”.

Beach Glass

I came across this poem by Bernadette Noll during the summer before we headed up to Door County, Wisconsin and the beautiful Lake Michigan beaches there. It spoke to me.

I want to age like sea glass.
Smoothed by tides, but not broken.
I want my hard edges to soften.
I want to ride the waves and go with the flow.
I want to catch a wave and let it carry me to where I belong.
I want to be picked up and held gently by those who delight in my well earned patina and appreciate the changes I went through to achieve that beauty.
I want to enjoy the journey and always remember that if you give the ocean something breakable it will turn it into something beautiful.
I want to age like sea glass.

📷: Hans Braxmeier

After a little research, I learned that glass tumbled around by ocean waves is called sea glass while glass tumbled around by fresh water waves is called beach glass. My experience is with beach glass.

I have a couple of friends who walk Lake Michigan beaches collecting beach glass. They delight in these tumbled beauties that have been transformed by the waves.

I have a BIG birthday coming up soon and I definitely want to age like sea (beach) glass. Like the poet, “I want my hard edges to soften.” I want to be soft-hearted, open-hearted.

My friend Barbara Mahany at pullupachair.org wrote a blogpost recently about Yom Kippur and mentioned that there is a beautiful line in one of the Jewish prayers that is recited over and over on this holiest of days “asking God to crack open our hearts, for only then can we begin to see and sift through and let go of all those obstinacies that keep us stuck.” In a serendipitous moment, as we were exchanging thoughts about our obstinacies, Barbara brought up the image of waves:

“I think suddenly of the waves at the beach that never end, and the way that water, over and over, washes over the sand and the shells, softening, softening, breaking down into finer and finer grains. Till eventually they might wash away……Is there something to learn from the never-endingness of the waves, a reminder that our work must go on and on. The act of cracking open our hearts, seeking forgiveness for what we find there, and then getting on with the business of letting go……”

The poet’s imagery and Barbara’s imagery flow together so beautifully. The waves of experiences and circumstances beyond our control help to shape us, but it is our own response to those waves that over time truly transform us into well-rounded beings~ soft, open, beautiful and free.

Remembering 9/11

May terrorism — in all its forms — disappear from the face of the earth.” ~from a prayer by Alberto Cutie

Twenty years ago today on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September, I was standing outside Tripp School as Grace and the other kindergartners were lining up to go inside to start their school day. There in the midst of a hundred innocent five year olds, my friend Maria told me that she had heard on the news that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. When I got back home, I turned on the TV and watched with horror as the awful events of the rest of that day unfolded before my eyes.

I talked to my husband on the phone and learned that parents of some of his students were coming to school to take their kids home and one dad was intending to immediately drive to southern Illinois to get away from the city. The thought to grab our kids out of school and flee had not even entered my mind.

In Chicago’s Loop, people were fleeing the Sears Tower fearing that other famous skyscrapers might be targeted. Some of those folks sought solace and sanctuary in our church, Old St. Patrick’s, which is just a couple of blocks west of what was then the tallest building in Chicago.

While I continued to keep vigil in front of the television, I worried about my cousins in New York — especially Jim, Joe, and Michael who were firefighters with the FDNY. Phone lines were jammed in the area. My sister Marianne eventually got in touch with our cousin Dolores who told her that everyone was okay.

I thought of my children. Sarah was in 4th grade, Danny in 3rd and Grace in kindergarten. I wondered what kind of a world they were going to inherit.

Summer 1999. Before the towers fell.

I thought of my cousins Jimmy and Bobby who had for years worked at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop one of the twin towers.

I thought of the people I had talked with regularly when I worked for The Balcor Company, which was a subsidiary of American Express and Shearson Lehman Brothers and whose offices were in the towers.

I thought of Kate, the daughter of dear friends, who lived in Manhattan not far from the WTC.

I thought about my brother Don and his wife Sue who were in Hawaii celebrating their 8th anniversary while Sue’s folks were back in Seattle babysitting their three little ones. Don and Sue would be stranded in Hawaii for several days during the no fly restrictions that went into effect almost immediately.

My heart was breaking as the litany of people I was praying for continued to expand throughout that day.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
~from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Yesterday evening, we were back at my husband’s school for a high school football game. The game was between the visiting Notre Dame Dons and the Mount Carmel Caravan – two Catholic boys high schools with lots of alumni who are first responders. Before the start of the game, the announcer called on everyone to stand united for a moment of silence in remembrance of the events of September 11th. The players on the field who were all born after 9/11/2001 stood facing the flag. The fans in the stands stood in total silence. Then a prayer was recited. Then a recording of the music of the National anthem was played over the loudspeaker. Then the MC boys joined together to sing the lyrics.

After the game as we were driving home, we saw these lights along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. NEVER FORGET.

Twenty years later, we have not forgotten. Last night, we remembered. Today we are remembering. We are remembering the violence and terror that evil men unleashed upon the people of the United States. We are remembering the 3,000 lives lost in New York City and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, DC. We are remembering the heroes of that horrible day. We are remembering all those folks who lost loved ones. We are remembering all those souls who still suffer from that terror-filled day.

Today I continue to wonder about the kind of a world Sarah and Danny and Grace will live in.

While remembering the horrors of that dark day, today I also think of my Muslim friends and colleagues, Aasia and Nazma and Samia and Hina and Mohammad. They are all peace loving people devoted to their families. They are not fundamental fanatics waging war against the USA and yet many American Christian fundamentalists label all Muslims as such.

I think too of the hundreds of Muslim children who have attended the school where I work. They are just like the innocent kinder I stood among when I first learned of the 9/11 tragedy.

And so I pray these words from a prayer by Derek Weber…

We call to you now in our remembrance, God of justice and of peace. Give us a will to truly pray that your kin-dom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen and Amen.

On this day of solemn remembrance:
May we honor the lives that were lost in this tragic act.
May we give thanks for those who served and saved, rendered aid and assistance.
May we give comfort to those who live with loss.
May we seek justice and peace where it is within our ability,
and rely on you when the ability escapes us.

On this day of solemn remembrance:
May we build what has been torn down.
May we mend what has been broken.
May we live your love when hate seems to reign.
May we bear witness to the cause of peace.

Thoughts on this Labor Day

This is the first Labor Day that I will be celebrating as an actual member of a union. Our little group pulled together during the pandemic when it became abundantly clear to us that we could protect ourselves more successfully if we joined forces.

The stars aligned for us. We were working with a pro-union school board; the interim superintendents were sympathetic; and the teachers union was supportive. As a result, our support staff union was recognized in record time by the school district.

Our new superintendent invited our union to speak at the school district’s opening institute day for the 2021-22 school year. This is what we said:

Good morning and welcome to another school year like no other!

This past year under the amazing leadership of Tseggy Gomez, the support staff of district 73.5 organized ourselves into a union affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. We are a small but mighty group of about 30 paraprofessionals, secretaries, administrative assistants and custodians. Many of us live in this school district. Many of our own children have gone or are going to Meyer, Middleton and McCracken. And at least one of us went to school in the district. Many of us are multilingual and collectively we reflect the diversity of the families within the district. We are invested members of this community.

During the 20-21 school year, paraprofessionals, secretaries and other support staff filled many important roles in order to enable the district to provide a continuum of education and services to our children during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were up close and personal with students in a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

Although we do not yet have a contract, we are eager to join with all of you to create welcoming spaces for our students. We are eager to support each other, all students, and all administrators, teachers and staff so that all of the children entrusted to our care can thrive and grow.

One of the district’s social media hashtags is #BetterTogetherSD735. So as we begin this new year let us work TOGETHER to create an environment in which we can fulfill our school district’s mission of “building a foundation for learning, leadership and life.”

Hummingbird Summer

When we visited my sister and brother-in-law in mid-July, we spent quite a bit of time relaxing on their screened-in porch which is basically up in the trees because their home is situated along the slope of Long John Mountain in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Like us, Marianne and David are backyard birdwatchers. From their aerie, we spied a huge hawk high up in one of the pine trees. We saw cardinals and goldfinches and mourning doves and heard the Eastern towhee with its distinctive “drink your tea” song. The most frequent avian visitors were a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds who sup from a hummingbird feeder hanging out from the porch. Marianne talks to them, especially to the mama who is much bolder than the papa.

Before darting in for a drink of homemade nectar from the feeder, the hummingbirds often perch on the topmost bough of the cedar tree in the center of the picture above. We were worried that the hawk might swoop down and swipe these itty-bitty birds from their conspicuous spot in the cedar, but they managed to evade him. There is a lot of drama involved in birdwatching.

When we returned home, one of the first things we did was to buy a hummingbird feeder. We set it out in the garden and waited.

We had no luck enticing the tiny birds for a visit. I had seen a hummingbird in our yard a time or two over the years, but not regularly. Marianne assured us that as soon as they discovered the nectar, they would be visiting us. I did a little research and discovered that hummingbirds are common in our area especially in May & June and then again in August & September. I wonder what they’re doing in July?

The calendar turned from July to August and like magic while John and I were sitting on our patio, a hummingbird buzzed in for a quick sip and then sped away. We’ve spied the little speedsters a few times since and one day I even managed to get a photo of our little lady perched prettily on the side of the feeder.

I started back to work at school this past week so I haven’t been able to while away the hours on our patio like I used to — watching bird antics and squirrel shenanigans. But this morning I ventured outside with my tea and sat a spell. As I admired the garden, a hummingbird flew in and seemed to hover above the feeder for a second or two like an angel and then descended slowly to alight on the red perch to drink his morning nectar with me. This beautiful moment made my heart happy.

Whenever I’m touched by nature’s beauty, I usually look to the poetry of Mary Oliver because I imagine she’s already managed to capture the essence of the emotion evoked by the beauty. I page through her collection entitled DEVOTIONS or I google Mary Oliver and [fill in the blank] — Mary Oliver and blackberries; MO and sunflowers; MO and sunsets; MO and hummingbirds. And almost always, I discover some words of wisdom…

Summer Story by Mary Oliver

When the hummingbird
sinks its face
into the trumpet vine,
into the funnels

of the blossoms
and the tongue
leaps out
and throbs,

I am scorched
to realize once again
how many small, available things
are in the world

that aren’t
pieces of gold
or power–
that nobody owns

or could buy
even for a hillside of money–
that just
float about the world,

or drift over the fields,
or into the gardens,
and into the tents of the vines,
and how here I am

spending my time,
as the saying goes,
watching until the watching turns into feeling,
so that I feel I am myself

a small bird
with a terrible hunger,
with a thin beak probing and dipping
and a heart that races so fast

it is only a heart beat ahead of breaking–
and I am the hunger and assuagement,
and also I am the leaves and the blossoms,
and, like them, I am full of delight and shaking

As summer wanes and August turns into September, I intend to pay special attention to hummingbirds — who in my imagination “float about the world” like angels — and the other “many small, available things” in the world and I’m going to watch them “until the watching turns into feeling”. I’m hoping those moments will fill me with delight so that I can go back into the world of work and school and pandemic concerns with an open heart.

The Year of the Blackberry

Sometime in the beginning of 2021 when we were still mostly locked down because of the pandemic, I discovered blackberries. It’s not that I had never had a blackberry before, but it wasn’t a fruit I ever really bought.

I was more of a strawberry girl growing up. I have fond summer memories of my mom slicing strawberries into little glass bowls for me and my brother and sister. She’d sprinkle a little sugar on top, pour cream on top of all that sweet deliciousness and then serve it up for breakfast. Slurping the pink cream after the last luscious berry had disappeared was sublime. Isn’t that a fabulous way to start a summer day!

I’ve had blackberries – not strawberries – most days for breakfast this year. I’m not exactly sure why they’ve usurped strawberries in my affection – I’m thinking maybe they’re more reliably sweet even when out of season.

I came upon this poem by Mary Oliver today as I’m cramming summer deliciousness — lunch with friends; mornings at Montrose Harbor; road trips to visit family and friends — into the last few days of summer break before I go back to school on Monday.

August by Mary Oliver

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

As usual, Mary Oliver’s words resonated with me. I’m vowing to take all the delicious black honey of summer into the rest of the year, even though it might be out of season, so that it can sweeten even the coldest and darkest of days.

J.O.E.

I’m reading Joyce Rupp’s book entitled simply, PRAYER. She writes that when she’s leading retreats, she starts by asking the participants to “pray to be open” because “if there is openness, wondrous transformation can take place. If the mind or heart is closed, little can happen.”

That passage made me immediately think of St. Joseph. Last December (on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mother Mary), Pope Francis proclaimed that the Catholic Church would be celebrating a Year of St. Joseph. I thought then, and still do now, that the timing of this announcement was yet another example of the clerical patriarchy turning its back on women.

Despite the timing though, I’ve come to a growing appreciation for this Joseph-ine year because in June while on a road trip, my dear friend Bea who is Director of Family Ministry at our church asked us for some help. She was planning the upcoming religious education year for students and had decided that this year’s focus would be on St. Joseph — but she wanted an acronym for JOE to make it more fun. So while we were in Denver, we played around with some words. Jesus on Earth and other boring combinations were all we could come up with. We did formulate a list of some pretty great J words besides Jesus and Joseph: jump, joy, justice, journey. Journey was my favorite of these. So on the return trip, I pondered JOE and St. Joseph and journey and eventually in a sudden flash thought: Journey Open-hearted Evermore.

That’s a great theme, isn’t it! St. Joseph is a perfect role model for this theme because despite his misgivings about marrying Mary, he was open to God’s messenger who told him in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. And ever after that first visit from the angel of the Lord, he was open to God’s plan for him and his family as they journeyed to Bethlehem and then Egypt and back again to Israel.

Just think what would have happened if Joseph hadn’t listened to the angel and acted as instructed. Joyce Rupp wrote, “if the mind or heart is closed little can happen.” Our world would not have been transformed without Joe’s open-heart then and thereafter. He continued to be open to God’s word as he raised the child Jesus.

Now it just so happens that another dear friend, Lucy, had given me a gift on this St. Joseph’s Day. Here it is:

I texted this image to Bea as we were journeying through Nebraska. She fell in love with this Joe. Who wouldn’t? He’s the poster child for this year’s OSP religious education.

My own disappointment about the timing of the commencement of the Joseph-ine year has been mostly set aside because as I reflected on JOE, I came to appreciate that ultimately Joseph didn’t turn his back on Mary. He was ahead of his time.

My prayer is that we will all follow the example of Joseph to journey open-hearted evermore.

Dad’s Centennial Photo Album

Today would have been my Dad’s 100th birthday! I’m remembering and celebrating with a photo montage and a few thoughts.

High School Graduation

World War II: Landed on the beach at Normandy in August 1944; forward observer with the Army’s 80th Division; lieutenant; two-time Purple Heart recipient. Click here to read more about his service in my post entitled Dear Ol’ Dad.

Married Adelaide Cassidy Healy in Bayside, New York on Valentine’s Day 1960. Click here to read more about their love story in my post entitled A Secret Valentine.

A Litany of Remembrance*

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,we remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,we remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,we remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,we remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength,we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart,we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share,we remember them.

So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

Amen.

*written by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer

Caravan of Selves

“Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? We are all shape-shifters and magical reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.” ~Diane Ackerman

When I first stumbled across this quote from Diane Ackerman, it immediately caught my imagination mostly because I had just been looking at a bunch of iris that had seemingly popped up in our school’s courtyard overnight. Seen from the school library where I work, there appeared to be big globes of purple scattered throughout the space. I don’t remember ever seeing iris there in past years so it was one of those moments of being surprised by joy. I simply had to go out into the garden and take some pictures to capture the moment.

Then I did a little research, because I was in the school library after all, and learned that in Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of rainbows (a symbol of hope) and messenger of the gods. I imagined that perhaps these purple blooms were a message of hope from above as we wind down this Covid crazy hard year in education and begin planning for next school year.

The word that really leapt out at me from Ackerman’s quote though was caravan.

My husband John has worked at Mount Carmel High School for 36 years. MC doesn’t have a typical mascot. They’re not known as the Comets or Cowboys or Cougars – they are the Caravan. Why? Because the Carmelites, who run the school, originated centuries ago near Mount Carmel in the Middle East – they were desert dwellers. In the desert, you travel together in a caravan for protection on your journey. Hence the Mount Carmel Caravan – traveling together as one. It’s a GREAT team name.

That phrase – “caravan of selves” describes John’s career at Mount Carmel. He’s retiring at the end of this school year and he’s been lauded over the past year with various tributes. The most recent accolade was the Green Jacket which is an honor voted upon by the students and given in memory of a beloved MC theology teacher.

Below is part of the reason he received the award:

“John Haggerty has held just about every possible title during his tenure at Mount Carmel.

In addition to teaching in the English and Theology Departments for the last 36 years, he has served as Co-Director of Recruitment, Director of Communications, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction, Assistant Principal for Academics and Student Services, Vice President for Academics, Vice President for Mission Effectiveness and Enrollment, and most recently, as Principal.

And while he has frequently shifted titles, he has maintained many of the responsibilities that he accumulated in each of his previous roles, making him an invaluable part of the school’s operation.”

I love how a form of the word shift appears in both the Ackerman quote and the Green Jacket tribute.

John begins shifting again this Friday, May 28th, the last day of classes at Mount Carmel for the school year and the last day of John’s tenure at MC. The place and its people have become a part of him though so he (and me too!) will be back often to support its mission especially since another Haggerty, our son Dan, has been creating his own caravan of selves there.

John has been imagining what his retirement self will look like for quite a while. He will take some time though in the coming weeks and months, like the dragonfly larva and the iris bud and the baby lawyer, to rest and reinvent himself into his next best self – another addition to his caravan of selves.

I am beyond delighted to have accompanied him on this caravan for 32 years and I look forward to this new part of the journey.