Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pieces of an NEYM Mosaic

We have set aside most of our usual business agenda, and are holding instead something we are calling "Meeting to Hear God's Call."

We are hearing a lot of messages about world suffering, economic injustice, environmental destruction.  We hear a lot of despair.

Some of the messages feel rooted in Spirit to me; if others are, it is not in a way that I can discern.  I wrestle with my own anxiety over doing "enough."  I know that I live in a manner that is far more comfortable than 90% of the planet's humans ever will; I know that my lifestyle is unsustainable.  I know that I have not sold all I have and given it to the poor (though I'm also grateful that, as a non-Christian among Friends, that one is not a given for me, but one whose social justice message must prove itself to me on its own terms, not just because Rabbi Yoshua said it back in the wayback.)  (Mind you, it's message is pretty damned compelling.)

I am in the weeds; I am in the tall grass.  So, I suspect, is my meeting.  And we are wrestling not just with the need to walk our talk, but with despair.

*     *     *     *

Will T. rises.  Gives a message about Abraham.  About God talking to this childless nonagenarian with an almost equally ancient wife.  Taking him out under the stars and telling him to look up: if you could count all the stars in the sky, that's how many your descendants will be one day.  God promises this.

The message is about Moses.  About wandering in the desert with the children of Israel, and about the Promise: there's a land.  I'm leading you there.  Just follow me, and you will be in the Kingdom of God.  About God keeping promises, and about the present reality of the Kingdom of God.

I remember my sense, last fall, sitting with Janet and her friends, as her wife Abby lay dying, and amid the grief and the sadness, feeling the love and the commitment we all had to one another and to both of them: my sense that I was, that moment, witnessing the Kingdom of God.

There is never reason to despair.  That promise is kept every day.  Filled with betrayals and pain though the world is, sick unto death though it may be, we are in the Kingdom as soon as we are faithful to where we are being led.

The promise? The Kingdom of God?  That is the place, surely, where we stop ignoring or objectifying the poor, we stop killing the earth, we stop distracting ourselves from loving and forgiving each other with our favorite addictions.

I have a sudden, almost overwhelming sense of what it would be like, to live into that Kingdom, and I'm almost overcome with joy--and with impatience at all the things we allow to interfere with our faithfulness as individuals or as a body.  Every moment I spend not heeding the call of Spirit is a moment I delay the Kingdom; every moment we listen, as a body, to our own wills, however altruistically we think we are motivated, is a moment we are not entering that Kingdom.

I want to weep.  But I no longer want to despair.  And my worship deepens.

*     *     *     *

Note to self: Re: ministry.  Is it possible that despair is one of the signs that a message is not of God?

*     *     *     *

Later on, I have the chance to tell Will how much his ministry meant to me.  I tell him both of my joy in the sense of the immanence of that "place" where we live faithfully in the world into the promise of justice and mercy Spirit gives us, and my deep, deep sadness that we are so good at delaying our entry there.

He reminds me that the Kingdom is present, and that there is a way we cannot delay it.  I share with him the story of being with Janet the night of Abby's death.  He nods.  While my vision of the Kingdom is not necessarily his, it is not too alien to be recognizable. 

*     *     *     *

N, a close friend from my home meeting, is surprised that Will's message spoke to me, both because of its Biblical imagery and on its own terms.  Far more Christian than I am, she found the talk of kingdoms off-putting.  "My God is not a King," she says.  I understand her point.

But I do keep having the sense that the Holy Spirit is a helluva translator.

*     *     *     *

Later, the same meeting as Will's message.  I feel a leading to speak; test it, sit with it.  It recurs.  I stand.

We are using "mike spacers"--both to deal with accoustics in this large, unfriendly space, and to assist the hearing impaired, when we rise with a message, we are asked to wait for one of two microphone bearers to bring us a microphone to speak into.  I wait patiently.

My message feels like a bookend to Will's.  It is not one that is natural to me, but, for the first time I am to give vocal ministry within the yearly meeting, that is good.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

Spirit's promises are kept.

*     *     *     *

I stand.  I wait for the mike runner.  I am handed the mike, recognized, and I breathe in to speak.

But I am standing in the clerk's blind spot, and she does not notice me, or that her mike runner has brought me the microphone.  Just I open my eyes to speak, I see that she is starting the handshake that signals rise of meeting.

For a moment, my inward gears clash and grind, caught between the imperatives of delivering a message and the social forms of politeness, and recognizing the form of the end of meeting.

I speak, but I hesitate.  I stammer; my voice is not clear.  While I did not get in the way of the message fully, neither did I get out of its way with perfect faithfulness.

I suppose that does not matter.  I hear Moses had a speech impediment, and vocal ministry is not a performance art.  But that moment of hesitation, between human forms and simple obedience, has made me clumsy.  I don't know how many people heard the message.

I did speak.  The handshakes paused as I spoke, then resumed, and we parted for lunch.

*     *     *     *

Later, I take a long walk with my friend K., and I need to talk about that stumbling message.  At first, she misunderstands me, thinks I am concerned that the message was inappropriate or not faithful.  She assures me that it felt Spirit-led to her.

One of the advantages of being non-Christian: when the Biblical stuff takes hold of me, it's so against my grain, my personal preferences, that I can be at least reasonably sure it is not ego-driven!  It's an odd thing to be grateful for, maybe, but I'm grateful for that.

My point is much more superficial, much more shallow.  I'd never spoken in yearly meeting before.  And the interruption by the handshake--it hurt.  It just hurt.

"Why don't you just give me a nice paper cut, and pour lemon juice in it!?" I complained, in my best Miracle Max voice.  And I spoke about how it felt like being smacked, being stung by a hornet, the way it happened.

At the same time, I'm well aware that my sting is not important, and that no one had intentionally done me any harm or disrespect.  I was just raw, open and vulnerable, the way one is when trying to open to Spirit.  And you know, shit happens.

Shit happened.  I was sitting/standing in a blind spot for the clerk's visual field.  Perfection does not exist among us humans, and there you go.

I begin to appreciate the importance of making a serious study of the art of forgiveness.  Because, short of hiding in your room for a lifetime, you're going to need to forgive a lot of people.  Sometimes including yourself.

What would be worse than rising with vocal ministry, being recognized, and being cut off by the handshake to end meeting?  What is worse than getting a paper cut with lemon juice in it?

Being the clerk who made the error.  Being the person who gave the paper cut and poured the lemon juice, however unwittingly.

We're human.  We're going to play both roles again and again and again.  We're going to need that forgiveness stuff--a lot, I'm pretty sure.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Incapacity

I appear to be completely incapable of writing my impressions of NEYM Sessions this year.

*sigh*

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Becoming Giants

I'm here at New England Yearly Meeting Sessions, the big annual Quaker business session and gathering for worship.  This year is unusual, in that the agenda-driven business sessions that normally shape the rhythms of our time together have been subsumed, mostly, in a much more open-ended "Meeting to Hear God's Call"--a kind of back-to-basics discernment session about our spiritual condition and where we may be being led by Spirit, as a body.

My attention, however, has been much less on the spiritual condition of my meeting, and much more on myself.  Since I arrived here on Saturday, I have been wrestling with almost overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, excoriating shame, stupidity, and a temptation to be severely critical of others.

This feeling has alternated with moments of extraordinary grace and quiet strength, in which I have found my heart more open and intuitive to the needs and longings of others than I can ever before remember being, and moments so filled with the Spirit of the Holy that I have half-expected to see Light burst from beneath my fingernails and shine out through my open eyes.

I have been teetering on the lip of a new level of spiritual maturity, seeing men and women around me clearly, both in their gifts and in their folly, able to love them deeply and fully in one moment, without sentiment or illusion... and the next moment, finding it all I can do to hear them and care for them at all in the wash of my shame and self-consciousness.

I am passing through yet another spiritual adolescence, and I don't like it much... though today I am beginning to hope I have traveled through my adolescence, and I'm emerging on the other side.  It has not been an easy journey.

Like all adolescents, I've been alternating between idealizing and judging the "grown ups" around me.  Unlike biological adolescents, I've been down this road before, and I've known from the beginning of my association with Quakers that the day would come when I would see their faults and follies in such a clear focus that I would be capable of forgetting the things they do right, or to hold each individual Friend in a kind of regard of mercy, understanding how impossible it is to move through life without hurting anyone, ever.  We all blunder; we all hurt each other.  Only the adolescent believes otherwise, or thinks that they themselves will be held to such a standard.

There are so many Friends here I want to engage in deep conversations with.  I want to be fully present to an absolute laundry list of remarkable Quakers, men and women I will likely not even get to see again until next year.  I've had a wonderful, growthful year, and I want to share it with them. What's more,  I want to be seen by them, loved by them, given a chance to give them my love in return--and admitted to a kind of full adult friendship I don't think I was quite capable of before this year.

I'm almost a grown-up, now, in "Quaker years" to coin a phrase.  I'm almost ready to be giving something back, to the people who have given me so much.  I want to sit with the grown-ups, and be real to them and real myself, open and transparent to Spirit.

And a lot of that is happening.  I've had some amazing heart-to-heart talks, and amazing quick conversations punctuated by a hug, or even just a brush of the hand.  I had a brief conversation on Sunday, for instance, with Viv Hawkins, one of two plenary speakers, and a woman whose warmth and genuineness in ministry is as rich and good as the smell of sunlight on loam.  She asked gently after some of the sources of the sadness I was feeling on that day.  Her questions and her attention were wonderful, but more wonderful still was just the ordinary touch of her hand against my wrist as she made some passing remark. She was so simply present in that moment, to me and to God, that it made my whole heart still and glad.

There have a lot of moments like that, and I'm aware that I have given as well as received that kind of presence. Moments of grace, as I said.

But at other moments, my damned teenaged awkwardness has gotten in my way.

Two days ago, feeling as naked and skinless as a newborn, but also filled with love and a sense of Spirit, I got a chance to walk between commitments with my friend Will T.  It was really just the down-payment on a longer conversation we were able to have later, and I hope my perception was correct, that despite his busy-ness at Sessions, the company was welcome.

But then, moving to give him a hug goodbye as we parted, I stepped on his foot.

Pretty hard, I'd guess.  I wouldn't know for sure, unfortunately, because I was in hiking boots. (He, of course, was in sandals.  Is there some cosmic law that this must always be the way?)

That's such a perfect metaphor for what it is like to be a human being, trying to be in a loving, friendly spiritual connection with another human being.  Even when we are guarding with all of our strength, all of our vigilance, all of our love against harming each other, we are apt to come down hard on each others' toes.  Right at the moment we mean best.

Will, of course, was good-natured about it.  I, however, was mortified.

Unreasonably so, actually.  But you know, it's one thing to know that in your head, and it's another thing to overcome your adolescent self-doubt long enough to be able to let something like that go.  Now, out there in the world, I could have put that blunder behind me with a laugh and an apology.  Here, trying so hard to live without armor, I am without the instincts that keep me from wounding myself.

It turns out that when you take off your skin to try to get really, really open to other people, you not only feel every bump and bruise and careless touch of theirs against your own vulnerable baby soul, but you feel every wound you inflict on them, too. 

And we inflict those wounds on each other all the time.

What clumsiness of mine have I missed, in my eagerness and gladness to greet Friends or rejoice in Spirit--or even just in tiredness, humanness, ordinariness?

My teenaged self is ashamed.  My spiritually adult self is beginning to know--really to know--this is just how it is, and that it needs to be accepted, acknowledged, and released.  My emerging spiritual maturity understands that this is really a lesson in the absolute imperative of forgiveness and mercy. 

(Don't worry--I have forgiven myself for stepping on Will's toes.  I'm pretty sure he's forgiven me, too--though I think he's entitled to stand a little farther away from me if I hug him again while in steel-toed shoes.)

The advantage of growing up is gaining an empathic inner eye, one with perspective that can level out the bumps and valleys with a little hard-won wisdom.  Wrestling with my own feelings of shame and stupidity lets me see other people more clearly.  And one of the things I'm watching unfold before me at sessions is a parade of men and women who, like me, find themselves a bit overwhelmed by their vulnerability here.  We truly are trying to live into the Kingdom of Love--and that's something that's very hard to do, in a world that teaches us to wear our armor even among our closest friends.  We who are trying to move beyond being defended castles of one into becoming members of one another are doing something new, and we are feeling more, loving more, grieving more than most of us are really in condition for just yet.  We get tired.  We get hurt.  And we too easily imagine we are the only ones in pain, the only ones who wonder if our spiritual gifts will be welcomed, if the love that we want to give one another will be acceptable.

Jan Hoffman delivered a memorable message on the pain of spiritual gifts not accepted by our communities; whether gifts of ministry or eldering or healing or just love and tenderness.

Whether through error, a rejection of what seems too far from our understanding, or simply through the ordinary bumps and bruises of a life in Spirit where some of us are in sandals and some of us can't quite see where our boot-tips are landing, our gifts are not always welcomed, let alone drawn out and nurtured, in this community.

It hurts when it happens to you.

And it's going to happen to you.

There's not a damn lot we can do about that, except keep trying: keep trying to give, keep trying to receive, keep trying to stay skinless and real and loving with one another, and to reject that little voice in the backs of our minds that suggests that we're the only ones who have been hurt like this, or that those who have hurt us did it on purpose, are Bad Friends, unloving, unfeeling, unkind.

Mostly, it won't be true.  And even when it is, it's not going to change by judging and labeling it.  It's going to change through tenderness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness.

And, yeah, telling the other guy to get off our foot--or going back to our meetings and reaffirming we've got a ministry, or a need, or a problem that is being forgotten.  Plain speech belongs in the equation.

But always, always, remembering to let love be the first motion.

The more I see of ministry and eldering in action, the more I see gifts in both that never become ripe. Because the bearer of the gift had been hurt... and had not been courageous in forgiveness.

We must be giants in forgiveness--giving it, asking it, receiving it, accepting it.  Or we will not be able to carry the gifts we bear.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

How to Weigh a Dead Car: Weeks Eight, Nine, and Ten Tally (Sort Of)

So this is an overdue tally, and I've realized that I'd probably post here more often, and the posts would probably be more interesting to read, if I didn't have the nagging feeling all the time that I "owe" the blog the latest tally.

The idea of posting the weight of our plastic waste (recyclable or not) has been to provide a kind of focus point, really just to keep me aware and noticing my use of plastic.  Knowing I'm going to be adding that plastic straw I forgot to specify to a waitress not to give me, please, hopefully makes it more likely I'll remember next time... but doesn't make for either thrilling writing or reading.

So I'm going to change the way I post this information.  It still seems like an important thing to have here, a kind of concrete checkpoint for readers that it's not all just a theoretical rant about the environment going on here, but actually an attempt at change.

But it's boring.

So from now on, I'll be posting our plastic tallies on the sidebar of the blog; you can find the information if you care to visit and look for it, but if you're following the blog via RSS reader, or checking it when there are updates, there will be no more updates coming on this subject.

I'm going to change the way we measure certain other kinds of plastic waste, too.

There's  a lot that's arbitrary in how we're measuring plastic use.  When I visited my doctor a few weeks back, for instance, they took my vitals when I came in, using a digital thermometer which gets a disposable plastic sleeve just for me.  Once they have my temp, into the trash it goes.

But not onto the tally; I'm counting that as the doctor's waste, and not my own.

Really?  I have no responsibility for that future toxic fossil?  None at all?  Well, not exactly, right?  But it's hard to measure, and I'm still striving for that elusive balance between wearing my witness in the world, and not being a total jerk about it.  So while watching that probe cover go into the trash gave me a feeling of unease, I neither stopped the busy nurse to listen to my lecture, nor halted her motion to capture that plastic sleeve to go into my own tally.  Maybe, with some thought, I'll come up with an alternative or an angle on advocacy on this kind of medical waste, but it just didn't seem like the moment to try to speak to an issue I hadn't yet thought about.

So I took the easy route that time, and counted the waste as "not mine."

Then there are objects that I'm not about to try to weigh.  For instance:




How do I weigh this?

During the last three weeks, Peter and I have been dealing with the aftermath of an accident we had on the Interstate.  We're completely fine and no other cars were involve, which is cause for gratitude; our car, alas, has been declared totalled.

Yes, for the observant out there, the car is, in fact, pointing toward the oncoming traffic and not away from it.  It turns out that a 180 at 65 mph is really bad for your car--not that I'd say it was deliberate on my part.  You may also notice the movement of the guardrail, at left?  About 3", we estimated at the time.  We struck it sideways, and it ate a lot of our momentum, which is probably why this story ends as happily--for the humans, at least--as it does.

I'm not sure exactly how much plastic there is in a late model Pontiac Vibe wagon, but my official estimate, without putting the thing onto the scale, removing all the plastic, and then reweighing it, is "a lot."

And I'm not exactly advocating for plastic-free cars.  When I was a kid, cars had a lot more metal inside them than they do today... and people died in accidents more often, too, when their heads struck unyielding metal dashboards and so forth.

The point remains, we added a whole bunch of hard-to-measure plastic to the waste stream this month.

I can't realistically tell you how much.

Nor would it be easy to get a precise weight on the plastic waste in the dead vacuum cleaner and window fan we also added to the waste stream this summer.  What to do about un-repairable plastic appliances?

Well, as Peter points out, storing plastic waste inside our home doesn't change the fact that it's waste.  Some things reach the end of their useful lives, and while some countries, like Germany, require manufacturers to take back appliances at the end of their useful lives, ours does not.

The car is going to the insurance company.  (On the bright side, they'll undoubtedly either fix it up for resale or sell it for parts.)

The fan and the vacuum cleaner are both going to the dump.  And I'm not going to try to weigh them.

I will, however, post photographs here (eventually--they're not up yet) also in the sidebar, showing pictures of the hard-to-measure plastic waste we produce as a household.  It counts, too; it may be harder to measure and easier to justify than a plastic drinking straw or other single use plastics, but it is part of what we, as a household, have contributed to the harm of the earth this year.  It's worth knowing.

But more worth knowing is that we have taken pains to replace the vacuum cleaner, at least, with a not just used but venerable and worthy vaccuum cleaner--a rebuilt Electrolux, with almost no plastic parts beyond the hose.

We do what we can.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Home

It is a breezy summer day today, and I can smell water on the wind, though the air is dry and clear.  The world is full of rustling leaves, and I have set up a recliner underneath a maple tree, where I divide my attention between my novel and the beauty of the undersides of leaves.

Want to know how beautiful my home in summer is?  It's so beautiful that I'm actually reluctant to go to New England Yearly Meeting Sessions.

Oh, I'll go, I'll go.  It is the spiritual cornerstone of my year, these days.  I would even regret it if I didn't.

But I am loathe to leave.  The days are precious here.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What's So 10:10 About Us, Anyway?

The people over at 10:10 are worried--as you and I should be (and as the Senate should be too even though they don't seem to be yet) about global warming.

The 10:10 initiative started as an attempt to get the British to band together and decide to cut our carbon emissions by 10% this year--2010, so 10:10, get it?  The idea was that they were going to encourage everybody to cut emissions by 10%--schools should do it, corporations should do it, local governments should do it, and individuals should do it.  Simple enough notion: if everybody cuts their emissions by 10% this year, that's a 10% cut in emissions for the year.

The idea spread pretty fast, and so many of us in places other than the British Isles wanted in, they went ahead and made it a global initiative.  Just imagine if the whole world cut their emissions by 10% this year?

Unfortunately, even if everyone in the whole world were to cut their emissions by 10%, that wouldn't be enough.  Instead, we know we're going to need to cut our emissions by something like 80% by 2050.  What's more, because the developing world is, well, developing, and it's just totally unreasonable to expect young mothers in Africa to carry their infants and huge containers of water back and forth by hand each day when, for a bit of, well, development (and growth in emissions) they can have wells for safe drinking water, and maybe even some kind of refrigeration for safer food, too.

All this so I can keep on driving my skinny white butt around in a more comfortable car.

So, just so we're clear about it, what is really going to have to happen over the next forty years is going to be a lot more than a 10% cut in emissions.  Right now, if everyone in the world lived the way the average American does, it would take more than five planets to keep us all going.  So we're going to have to change course, and more than just a little bit.  Even though there is some hope in terms of world population not simply continuing to skyrocket, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are already over the level that produces a theoretically "safe," survivable level of climate change, so we're going to have to make big changes, and we're going to have to make them soon, before we reach a point of no return.

But you have to start somewhere, and, as a teacher, I know that one of the most important things about getting kids to change the way they work is to teach them to break projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks, give them lots of feedback on the intermediate steps to a long term goal, and make what I'm asking them to do as concrete as possible.

Since I'm basically a big kid, myself, I figure it makes sense for me, too.  And that's one thing I like about the 10:10 project: it does just that.  Instead of just scaring us silly with doomsday projections, so we feel as overwhelmed as Charlie Brown with a book report due, they give us simple, concrete strategies for making change one year at a time.

Ten percent.  Let's see if we can reduce our emissions by 10% this year.

What 10:10 suggests? They break down the broadest areas of daily life in the developed world that result in carbon emissions, and make suggestions on how to reduce your emissions in each area:
  • Travel
  • Home heating
  • Electricity
  • Driving
  • Eating
  • Stuff we buy
  • What we throw away
  • Water use
Cut each area by 10%, they reason, and you'll have cut your emissions across the board by 10%.  Logical enough.

Of course, if you're already concerned about the environment, you're probably already doing a lot of the things they advise doing, and if your income is low, you probably don't even have the option of doing a lot of the things that cause the most harm--like taking airplanes from Point A to Point B.  Some areas might be pretty difficult to make cuts in for logistical reasons, some you may already have made real reductions in (and every year gets harder, as you make the easy cuts--but that's not a reason to kick yourself; it's actually good news).  And some may be things you've been meaning to get around to, but haven't yet.

That's our story, anyway.  Some things we've always done fine with--we have no time for travel, so we never fly--and some we're making real headway with--like what we throw away.  Other things you'd think we'd have figured out, like keeping our car tires properly inflated, we constantly forget about, and some things, like getting more of our food from organic and local sources, or baking our own bread and hanging up the laundry instead of using a drier, we're figuring out for the first time.

When our house began the plastic fast at the beginning of June, we had actually already been doing a number of good things for quite a while.  But we had just done one very damaging thing: we'd moved from our previous, 950 square foot apartment into an old 1800 square foot farmhouse.  Lots more volume to heat, and a lot of it configured in ways that are going to be hard to adequately insulate.

Partly because I know that we took a giant step backwards, when we moved to our bigger house, and partly because I dearly love the woods and land around our house, last August's move has been a catalyst for a lot of intensifying thought and effort to improve our relationship with the planet.  I feel the tension between loving the countryside and, by my choice of residence, harming it, and that has been, for me, a strong motivator to try to clean up my act environmentally.

For me, 2010 began in August of 2009, with the move to Chestnut House--this house, our dream house, with room to write and room to garden, a big kitchen, and a big back yard.  For me, the quest to save the planet begins with the home I love.

I describe myself as a kind of soccer mom of environmentalism.  I'm a full-time school teacher; I don't have a history of living in a commune or running an organic gardening coop, and I do not intend to become self-sustaining on our 3/4 acre of land.  I'm a middle class American, with pretty ordinary habits and hobbies, not a hippie or a full-time activist.

I'm not putting down the hippies, organic gardeners, or full-time activists out there.  I admire a lot of things about how the ones I know live their lives.  But for me, whatever changes I make are bounded by certain realities: I'm committed to a lifestyle where I earn enough money to pay my mortgage, help my daughter get settled in a happy adult life, and am able to afford my health insurance.

I've got to get up at 5:15 AM 185 days each year to go teach school.  And I've got to have access to a car to get to the school and back, a computer to write my lesson plans and enter my grades, and electric lights to read the books I teach.  I've got to have enough convenience and ease in my life to manage the eight to ten hour workdays I have during the school year, and to cope with the health problems of my somewhat battered middle-aged body.

And I've got to like the life I live enough to be bearable--no, loveable--company for my husband, a man so wonderful he deserves every moment of happiness I can provide him in our lives together, should we live to be 120.

So when I tell you that the changes I am making in my life--including not actually eliminating plastic waste (though I'm getting smarter and better at avoiding it all the time) but reducing it radically, and committing to meeting and exceeding the goals of groups like 10:10--are working for me, are things that are not making me less happy, less healthy, or less able to live my life as I need to, but more...

When I tell you this, perhaps it is worthwhile.  Perhaps, like me, you are a soccer-mom or soccer-dad-ish kind of a person, not a person who thinks of themselves are remarkable, and not someone who wants to live like a martyr for a goal that seems hopeless and out of sight.

In which case, it may be interesting to note that, last August, at the time we moved to this house, I was living that typical American lifestyle of the Five-planet Consumer, by at least one rough estimate.

Just before I began this blog, I had managed to cut myself back to something close to a Four-planet Consumer.

As of today, we here at Chestnut House have made it down to three planets.  Is it enough?  If everyone did this, would we be OK?  Well, no.  Not even close.

But on the other hand, while Charlie Brown's book report is not yet written, I've made a start.  By this one, possibly overgenerous, rough estimate, we've seen a 2/5 reduction in our ecological footprint in just one year: 40%.

I think that's a pretty good start, actually.

And what's stellar news?  There's more I can do.  And I'm figuring out how to do it--and still be a soccer mom, have a social life, watch the occasional television show, eat out every now and then, and, yeah, get to work in back in time to earn the paycheck that pays the mortgage.

I know it's not enough.  But, on the other hand, I'm having a Rosie the Riveter moment here.

We can totally do it! We've just got to dig in.

But we've got to start now.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Nearly Lammas

Here it is, a little before dawn, at the turning of the Wheel of the Year.  It is nearly Lammas, and I am awake early, listening to birdsong.  The highway rush of traffic outside my house has not yet begun, so early on this Sunday morning, but the birds are in full chorus, and I cannot sleep.

I am awake, and I can feel the turning of the Wheel.  Summer is already beginning the downhill slope toward fall, and my heart and my body are full of the sense of that.

Partly it is simply a matter of there having been a break this past week to the stifling heat waves of July.  Partly it is that fireflies have given way to crickets, that the black raspberries are past, the native corn and tomatoes are in, and the blackberries are beginning.

And partly, for me, a teacher, it is that the rising and falling plot of summer is already past its climax.

July is the unmaking month for teachers; it is the month when we forget our classrooms, forget our students, and forget our armored, dedicated, laser-focused selves.  It is the month of forgetting appointments, losing track of time, and drifting through hot days the way we might have drifted, when we were young, down a slow river while draped over a pudgy inner tube.  It is the month when we forget to be old and wise and full of plans, but putter: Peter on household carpentry projects, and me in the kitchen, learning to make pickles and jam.  July is when we slip outside of time.

Unmaking the selves responsibility and effort have hardened us into during the year.  For no matter how much we may love our jobs and our students and our lives, there is something about wise, carefully-planned, tightly scheduled living that is inimical to something else inside us.

I remember when my parents retired, after a lifetime of work as teachers and school administrators, how the habits of often-frustrated, hard-working people seemed to melt away, and they seemed to recover their youth.  I watched them play with my daughter, teaching her to swim or to drive a boat, and I watched as faces that had been tight for years in concentration relaxed again into laugh lines I could remember only from when I was very young, from the days when a piece of ironing turned in my mother's hands could be a benediction, and my father read us poetry at supper.

For a while, when I was older, they seemed to go away, those happy people who begun my life.  But when they retired, they seemed to find those selves again. They seemed to remember who they really are.

We all need some retirement.

We all need some times of letting go, remembering, coming home to give thanks and rest, and to remember who we are.  Lammas is that climax of that time within the teacher's year--the time of fullness, contentment, relaxation and drift. 

My face is a different face when I have ceased to look into mirrors for a week, a month, a season.  This is especially true when the mirrors I have not been watching are the eyes of thirty adolescents, reflecting myself back to me, but in images colored by their anxiety, their newness, their anger or hunger or boredom or (rarely) their joy.  My face is a different face when I have lived for myself alone a little while.

And I like it.

But the Wheel does not stop turning, for me or for anyone else.  And I can feel the beginning of the end of this season out of time.  As surely as the crickets' song will end, summer will not last.

This morning, lying wakeful in the hours before dawn, I thought again of school.  I remembered my students.  I remembered my classroom.  I slipped again, as if I had never left it, into the state of mind that plans lessons and wonders how to reel my students in, get them popping, get them thinking, arguing, listening, and learning to write it down.

I imagined the first day of school.  I thought about whether to buy a better pencil sharpener for my room, or to have the students write journals again this year.  I thought about the school newspaper I will be helping build, and what my new classes would be like.

Lying there in bed, I put my armor on, donned, just for a moment, my professional self: just tryed it on for size.  Just oiled the joints, looking for rust or worn spots that will need repair before I go out to the lists again in fall.

August is when teachers step back into time.

August is when the sheaves of wheat are put up in the barn, when the flour is ground, the vegetables set by, the fruits of summer preserved against the long winter.  August is not the end of summer, but it is aware of endings; it is grateful, but it remembers the coming times of want.

The Wheel turns, and I am turning with it.  No summer lasts forever, and here I am again, back in the flow of time.

Images: Farmstand Products from Campbell's Farm StandWoman Kneading Bread, from the National Archelogical Museum of Athens, via Wikimedia Commons.   
I love the way the second image looks not only like a woman kneading bread, but also like a teacher standing before a class.

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