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Pentecost is nearly upon us; what better time to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? For those unfamiliar with these, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Most of these are easy to grasp. But fear of the Lord? That one was a mystery to me until it was explained that the word “fear” relates to loss of God’s love and mercy — fear of being without God, of being alone. That I can understand at a cellular level. It’s a bit like the feeling you get on a roller coaster, just as you begin to plummet down that first big drop.

To leave one’s stomach — and heart —
on some bucolic grassy berm
and fall further, surely, than Alice ever fell,
into void and absence, of light, of sound,
to spin loose like a kite: hand, neck, knee,
head; bones loosed, body unbolted…
To live here always is to live without You,
a land as foreign as the face of the sun,
but cold, dead, devoid of compass points,
street signs, bent twigs or bread crumbs.
Blinder than a worm. No. I will not go.
Take me in your arms and promise me:
though I kick the air, you will not let me fall.

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My friend Maria, who hails from Taiwan, tells me that in her culture it is believed that friends are souls who find one another, lifetime after lifetime. Though I’m not a fan of reincarnation (it sounds terribly tiring), I like the sound of this conjecture. After Ruth opined that she thought the three of us really ought to get tattoos so that we can find one another in the next life, it all clicked together.

The sky appears daunting, swarming
as it is with bright and twinkling things,
still: We will find each other,
unerringly, though lifetimes,
on this or any astral plane.
We will coalesce into constellation—
The Sisters, they will call us, or something Latinate —
we will laugh, knowing we are we, not stars but souls,
bound by something more grave than gravity,
beats of light that blink out occasionally,
only to reappear, newborn but ancient,
in yet another freckled sky.

As a writer and editor, I’ve always been a proponent of proper punctuation. It not only renders our words more readable and comprehensible, it can eliminate tragic misunderstandings. Don’t believe me? As a (rightfully) famous book about grammar points out in its title, a panda bear “eats shoots and leaves.” A murderer at a café, however, “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Big difference!

I’ve been pondering punctuation in relation to real life: Is death a period or an ellipse (…to be continued)? Or is it a semicolon, as we move from one part of our “sentence” (a complete thought) to another? Only God knows.

I pray in commas, brief pauses in my day, bare blips,
or often longer stops — ellipses and em-dashes —
the occasional exclamation, in pain, worry, joy…
a curved question mark, arced in self-pity.
The perfect prayer is, I think, a period.
Self-contained. Measured, like a bolt of cloth.
Shaped most simply, a clay cup
of subject, verb, and object.
And best if God is all three.

Even though I’m a bit psychic myself (skeptical? I predicted that!) I wasn’t planning to get a psychic reading that day, but went along with my friend as she got hers. When she was done, she declared the psychic to be 100% accurate.

“100%? Come on,” I said.

“Try it!” she said.

So I did.

We were visiting the town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, for all its wonderful little shops. Antique tchotchkes, lovely little cafes. It was a haven for motorcyclists and mind readers. Big, bulky tough guys with tattoos right beside psychics who were giving readings for $10 a pop. I haven’t been there for over twenty years, but still remember our visit.

The psychic had predicted I’d have one son and I did.  Also, that my son would have a soul similar to my father’s. Well, both were Libras. I can’t remember anything else she said that was earth-shattering, but my friend had been promised she’d be rich beyond her wildest dreams, marry Mr. Right and live happily ever after. How did that work out? Well, not as planned. In fact, quite the opposite. She wondered: is it possible to sue a psychic for malpractice?

Maybe all we really want to hear about the future is that it will be better than today. That sounds entirely possible, and with some effort and a prayer for good measure, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I predict clear skies (sometimes), green lights on the road (here and there) and free will (all the time.)

Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

Question: How are you?

If can’t complain, press 1

If fair to middling, press 2

If please don’t ask, press 3

You know me, dear readers. I’m always joshing. But I:

⬜ Usually

✅ Sometimes

⬜ On occasion

⬜ Once in a blue moon in a leap year 

…have a point hidden somewhere in that humor.

If you look at the headlines, all you’ll see is bad news.

Maybe we’ve gotten used to seeing that in our lives, too.

When someone asks “how are you?” we immediately run down the list of milestones in our mind to come up with a punchy headline.

  • Wife left me last month and took up with the mailman.
  • I almost hit the lottery but was off by one number. That’s what I get for using my wedding date!
  • Kid hit a baseball through my window yesterday.
  • Plus I had a wicked hangnail.

Somewhere lost in the sauce there: The couple had been estranged for years, and they were better off apart. Hardly anyone ever wins the lottery. The kid broke the window but apologized immediately and got a job after school to pay for it. The hangnail, the man deserved. Just kidding! He just needed a good nail clipper.

Check in with your blessings today. Even if you can’t say everything is all wine and roses right now, you can find one half-way decent thing to be grateful for. Maybe just a good parking spot or a semi-amusing blog post from your Kindly-Auntie.😊 Look around you today. Silver linings are everywhere.

My yard is populated with birds, squirrels, and an occasional deer. There are also some squatters that hang around: Rocco and Enrique, the raccoons, and Fred Sanford, the red fox I see once in a while. Inside, every so often, I’ve had to contend with Sid and Sylvia, the silverfish. And of course, Steve, the spider who lives behind the bathroom door.

Every last one of them thinks that this is THEIR house.

They look askance at me as I’m looking askance at them.

What are you doing in my home? we’re each thinking.

If we startle each other, both of us react in fear. I always try to capture bugs as opposed to having to squish them, but if they surprise me, I make no promises. As long as they respect my space, we can co-exist in peace. Isn’t it the same way with the world?

This is my country. What are you doing here? In this country that was founded by immigrants. Mind you, this land was already populated by native Americans. Religions all stake the same claim: We alone possess the truth. Abide by our rigid rules, or suffer the consequences! When we overlap, we tend to squish each other, talking louder, claiming the community’s shared space as our own.

Then there’s Grady the groundhog, who keeps finding a way back under my house despite a wildlife company trapping nine of his family members, sealing holes and installing underground fencing. It took him a while, but he found his way back in. I hear him knocking sometimes under my sunroom. We aren’t each others’ fans, but like religion and politics, if the best I can do is not burn down the house to get rid of a few pests, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

(Or: In Which Lori and Ruth Pen a Poem Together)

You may not know that one of my very favorite poets is our own Ruth. As you probably have gleaned, she has a way with words. So when she emailed me with a premonition most poetic — Rows and rows of grown things. And it came from the pain. — I had to respond.

Oh Gardener, you surely tease:
what can grow from this blighted, salted soil
but stones and brush, blunted and stunted as bonsai?
What takes root in blood and mud but dashed dreams
and creeping evil? This ground has shown no promise,
not in all its years of sunward striving. Still, you laugh.
Crucifixion turns into Resurrection. Do I not recall?
And I see — rows and rows of grown things,
green shoots rooted in pain, turning new blooms
toward heaven. When will it come? You simply smile.
I carry no timepiece. Only wait for the rain to cease.
And you throw me an umbrella: a friend.
I resolve again to wait.

I was searching for good news stories online for a post yesterday, but for some reason, I couldn’t find an angle to write about. I realized later that I couldn’t detect the good news. I was in a bad mood.

Yes, even your Kindly Auntie can feel hinky. Not from New Jersey? That just means that something’s not sitting right but you don’t know why. You feel unsettled. Brittle.

So I sat down to try to put into words how I was feeling, and this is the closest I could get: Something rightfully mine hasn’t reached me yet.

I know these words are insufficient, but there was a kind of vague sense of why-not-ness. Why can’t I have what others seem to have, whatever it is on your checklist. Money. Love. A break. Just a pure, true good day. Other people have all their ducks in a row. Or do they? It could be that they just disregard their ducks.

Never assume that everyone else is living a perfect life, despite what you might see on Instagram. That’s the sound of a civilization giving up. Throwing up its collective hands and saying, I don’t know how to achieve a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, a sense of peace, so instead, I’m going to present this image of fulfilled, joyous completion in its place. It’s a mock-up for where a good life might have been.

Luckily, when I woke up today, I was back to center. The good life finds me every day here on this humble blog. I’ve had all of the things and situations that we’re told will “complete” me, yet none of them did. Maybe that’s the point. To keep learning, growing, reaching, becoming, expanding. And to leave space for blessings yet to arrive to come in for a landing.

Image result for early sketches Michelangelo

Studies for The Libyan Sibyl, Michelangelo (from Wikipedia)

Isn’t it funny how it’s possible to give yourself a hard time over mistakes you made years ago? I wonder why the brain holds onto what hurts it in that way. Whoever made those decisions doesn’t even exist anymore. The you of today would surely choose a different path.

Rather than beating yourself up, seeing yourself as another person will make it easier to forgive yourself. That wasn’t you at all. It was the you of today in training. When you’re in training, you make mistakes. Good news: you’re not in training anymore. You’ve graduated to become the you of today. One thing is true: you won’t make those same mistakes again, having learned the hard way what doesn’t work. You get to make new mistakes! Lucky you!

But in a way, there are no mistakes if you’re sculpting a life of your own creation. You chip away until the figure forms and you’re satisfied. If you look at all the early versions of his great paintings Michelangelo threw into the scrap pile, you’ll realize those drawings weren’t mistakes. They were practice.

Think of the you of the past as a dusty still life on a shelf. And the you of today? A whole new work of art, in living color.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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