IN THE OM ZONE
Choosing to escape chaos
we can release ourselves to quiet
and surrender to the ocean of breath
joy and gratitude ablaze in our hearts
as we remember to trust divine wisdom
we take a step into paradise
and linger where all is comfort
Resting in awareness
of soul wholeness
we can soak in the power of positivity
and bathe in a galaxy of peace
letting our gifts of blessings pour out
May we all attune to our gentle inner teacher
dipping into spirit’s well of serenity
Let’s connect with our centers and each other
with the true sight of non-judgment
and restore an undivided brotherhood
Wine, sweet wine in a fish-shaped bottle
sweet wine shared at your grandmother’s house
in the back yard of her beach bungalow alone,
we’d fled college for the night
You, a blue-eyed, Irish fisherman with hair longer than mine
served dinner at the picnic table
we made a toast to your catch with flimsy plastic cups
You, who smelled like the cod you cleaned on a dock in Newport
had hooked me with your smile
Hoping we became lovers,
my body pulsed, awaiting an embrace,
and I hungered for that moment of tasting the wine on your lips.
The sky spins clouds into purple angel-shapes.
Night is dropping in.
I am content standing at the window
watching the sky be painted
as dogs bark
motorcycles zoom in the distance
a neighbor’s door slams
crickets say good night
and a hummingbird visits the lilac bush.
The light is fading
and I can barely write
but I am held captive by the wonder of just being here.
A HOLIDAY TENDERNESS
One night in December, Lynne, Daphne and I were driving to the last choir practice before our big holiday performance. Counting down the days until Christmas, we could hardly wait to tell one another about favorite dessert recipes, what special gifts we had chosen for loved ones, and what activities our families were trying to squeeze in during the days of hectic hubbub. We chatted about vacation plans, discussed the weather on the slopes, and exchanged reviews about any concerts we had enjoyed. With excitement brimming in her lilting voice, Lynne told us about the ski trip she had planned for her kids. I pictured them whizzing down the steep hills, being decked out in colorful gear, sporting ice crystals on their hats and shoulders, and as the song goes, “laughing all the way.” Then I saw them with cheeks and eyes aglow, toasting their cold fingers and toes by the fire and enjoying the decorations around the hearth. I gave Daphne instructions on how to make the cute sock snowmen she’d admired on my mantle. Being a teacher, she wanted to use this project idea in her first grade class, and I was thrilled to have extra supplies to donate to her students. I pictured happy little children heading home for Christmas break, carefully carting their creations in their skinny arms, and then handing over their precious snowmen to their parents while beaming with pride. Daphne described the growing burden she felt at school, having to accomplish a long list of obligations required of the class before the holiday break began. In the world of elementary school teachers, pre-Christmas duties were often overwhelming. There were assignments to be graded, songs and poems to be rehearsed, Kleenex boxes to be restocked and sock snowmen to be stuffed with beans and fluff. Because her parent volunteers were busy with shopping, wrapping and baking, her “elves” were in short supply. After Daphne had recited her worries about getting everything done in time, she proceeded to chuckle. She remarked, “Oh, I just have to tell you what happened the other day!” Lynne and I often heard Daphne recount amusing stories about her pupils’ antics. We could tell another story was coming because of the way Daphne’s face lit up. “My first grade class was in the middle of singing ‘Jingle Bells.’ We were preparing for the performance we give for parents and family. During the last chorus I noticed that one of the girls was crying. I wondered why she would be crying during this happy song. “I handed my student a tissue and asked, ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong?” The girl replied emotionally, ‘I was remembering back to when I was little!’” The three of us were amazed and intrigued by the depth of feeling in this child who was merely six. I tried picturing the girl during this endearing moment in the classroom. How was it that she was feeling nostalgic at such a young age? What memories were passing through her mind that made her so sentimental? I imagined what her family was like, and wondered about the Christmas she was seeing from her past. I daydreamed about her singing “Jingle Bells” in her neighborhood or church—perhaps she had older siblings caroling beside her. Perhaps she was surrounded by her family, singing in the car with the tree tied on top, everyone all bundled up in warm clothes, bundled up in tenderness. Or maybe the young girl felt wistful, recalling a time when a grandparent accompanied her during a holiday outing, and that special person was gone. But since Daphne’s presentation of the story didn’t carry that sad note, Lynne and I remained uplifted and inspired. Thinking about the young girl’s innocence and nostalgia during rehearsal that evening, I considered all the songs that nearly bring me to tears during Christmastime. Even if I’ve heard my favorites at least ten times in the grocery store, holiday music brings me that same welling of emotion the first grader felt. That special music touches many of us, for it reminds us of those cherished memories in which we felt nurtured and secure—or it calls to mind what I think of as Norman Rockwell moments iimagined scenes that make you rejoice. Picturing either of these images, we witness a warm holiday tenderness that softens, expands and renews us.
I devour Christmas. I regard it with great anticipation and adoration. I feast on its gaiety, its heavenly music and dazzling lights. The season is magical to me with its call for goodwill, its prompting people to open their hearts wider and be kinder. I resonate to its many enchantments and to the quiet reverence this holiday elicits.
Looking back at Christmases gone by, I watch memories spinning around in a colorful whirling kaleidoscope. The happier moments spill past, glowing within the brighter spokes of life’s wheel. Their pleasing patterns capture my attention and I enjoy viewing them over and over. Lucky for me my collection contains mostly joyous times. But since life is composed of light and dark together, sadder events depicted in somber tones also spool through my kaleidoscope. As much as I always hope Christmas is jubilant, I can’t endlessly dodge adversity whenever the holiday arrives. My parents certainly weren’t able to.
When my dad was only seventeen, his father died from a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Dad’s guilt from not being able to say goodbye stayed with him for decades. Dad naturally seemed to feel little holiday joy, and preferred drinking and going to parties to assuage his emotions.
One Christmas Eve when my brother and I were little, our parents brought us to a festive party where they both had too much to drink. While leaving late that night, my mom slipped on the ice covering the walkway and sprained her ankle. She and Dad went back inside for help and we kids waited in the freezing car for a long time, scared, sleepy and shivering. Looking back I could never imagine how Dad must have suffered, or how my mom managed to handle the shadow that lingered over the holidays year after year. Not only did she have to reckon with Dad’s depression, she also faced her own despair; her mother died on December 13th at the mere age of fifty-four. Despite Mom’s heartache, she always spoiled us children and created special memories that would forever make my Christmases sparkle.
KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS
Celebrating Christmas in Kentucky sounded as odd to me as watching a frail, elderly woman ride a skateboard. I was accustomed to our family tradition of being home for the holidays in New England. But in 1978 I was a young college kid whose parents were recently divorced and I no longer had the same home to return to. That Christmas I felt exposed and vulnerable as I began looking at life in new ways: as the grown child who had left the nest, as the young woman with parents living in separate states, as a guest in Mom’s new Kentucky home with her changing holiday customs, and as a semi-stranger to my aunts and cousins whom I barely knew. I was aware of Southern hospitality, but I didn’t expect to be so surprised by this group of jovial women who gave me a Southern-style Christmas I would never forget.
What made this Christmas sparkle in my memory was that my grown relatives did not act like mature adults. My cousin suggested that we take a little drive to see the house that was annually adorned with a huge lighted Elvis placard on the rooftop. Snow had only dusted the town but we still needed to bundle up from the cold. Piling into the car just before dusk on Christmas Eve, we drove across town to gawk at the gaudy celebrity decoration. Elvis was depicted in his typical pose—standing with legs apart, knees bent, microphone in hand—and his image was surrounded by bright blinking bulbs. My aunts were such a lively bunch, they decided that we stand on the sidewalk by the house and sing one of Elvis’s tunes, “Blue Christmas.” The five of us belted out the refrain with plenty of twang and dramatics. We had only made it through the first chorus when the front door swung open and out popped a young boy of about twelve. Our singing group promptly snuffed our giggles when we noticed that the boy in the doorway was holding a shotgun! He made it clear by moving it in our direction that we should end our taunting display immediately. Aghast but still chuckling, we dashed away and finished another chorus in the car. As we drove through the neighborhoods and gazed at the colorful Christmas displays, I felt awkward about poking fun at the tacky Elvis fans. On the other hand, the cheery presence of these women comforted me. Being a young adult, I hadn’t yet read any Southern women authors so I didn’t fully appreciate what a “hoot” these folks were, but I admired the spunk and sassiness which seemed to be an essential part of their characters.
The festive tone continued through the evening as company came and went from my aunt’s house. Fortified with lots of sugar and a little alcohol, we revelers agreed to stay up late and attend Midnight Mass. The hush and reverence within the glowing sanctuary filled me with peace and joyful expectation of Christmas Day. Our row of merry ladies sat piously for the ceremony up until Holy Communion. At that point I became aware that there was a disturbance in our pew, for it seemed to be rocking or shaking. I glanced toward my aunts and cousins and discovered my second big surprise that Christmas Eve: they were all cracking up with laughter in church! Some were bowing their heads to quiet the laughing, while others were leaning against one another to stifle the noise. My mom couldn’t contain herself enough to tell me the joke, but I found myself suffering with both a sore face and cramped belly from laughing so hard as the intense hilarity spread among us. I could hardly wait for the mass to end so I could discover what had caused the ruckus.
It turned out that one of my aunts had asked my mom if she would be taking Communion. My mom, not the religious type but who has a Ya Ya Sisterhood personality, quickly whispered, I’m so full I couldn’t eat another bite.
These Southern women knew how to live it up, and they also had that inherent ability to liven things up. Being silly came naturally to these gals who greeted the magical holiday season with open amusement and childlike wonder. It was that year I realized that, even though I had become a more mature adult, I could remain an elated kid all over again at Christmastime.