Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The sound of silence, roadkill and a great cookout.

     On Saturday evening, the organist didn't show up for the wedding.  The chapel was beautiful in the soft light, with candles, calla lilies and white roses adorning the altar.  Blue hydrangeas were tied to each pew with stiff lavender ribbons.  The guests were seated and soft chatter filled the space, and then stilled.  But, at ten till the hour, there was still no music - no organist.  After a frantic scramble to fill the void, the bride sighed and the wedding proceeded - without music.  The mothers were seated in silence.    The bridesmaids smiled and processed in one by one, their silver heels clicking with each step down the stone aisle.   The bride and her father entered, looked at each other, laughed half-heartedly, and walked down the aisle. The silence was reverent and solemn but completely overwhelming.  
     It was the absence of the beautiful that stopped the breath.  Where were the celebratory notes of Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary or the time honored traditional wedding march?  Or even the trendy "Here comes the sun" blasting  from an ipod?  I usually love silence, but in this case, the silence was reverent but hollow, quiet but empty, a deep void within the usual celebration.  
     The organist had written the time down wrong.  She arrived in time to play the recessional, the  triumphant "Hornpipe" from Handel's Water Music Suite, which she played loud and long as if to make up for the earlier loss.  
     But what I will remember from this wedding is being stunned by the silence - the what was not.


Roadkill Chapel
     Driving onto the Ravenel Bridge from Mt. Pleasant early one morning recently, I skirted some roadkill. It was a rather large raccoon with a beautiful coat, curled into a crescent moon shape as if sleeping. Rush-hour traffic flowed past. I know on this side of town, it won’t be long until it’s gone, all mortal remnants safely swept away.
     I used to do what many others do - just avoid looking at it, but now I mimic a practice that some monks follow, who pause to pray anytime they hear a bell ring to remind them to be present. I use roadkill as a reminder to say a prayer of thanks for the life that was, for the life I have and for the blessings of the chance encounters we have with others that might go unnoticed without a sense of presence. 
     Roadkill reminds me we all drop out of the flow of traffic one day, usually not in a graceful or planned exit. It reminds me not to be stingy in giving others blessings and to open myself to ones I’m supposed to be receiving. Above is a landscape scene I pass frequently. When I pass it, I use it similarly as roadkill, as a visual reminder to pause and reflect. I don’t know what’s around the next bend, but at this moment the sun has poked through and I feel peace.
     An inexpensive charcoal grill was one of the best investments I've
ever made. This time last year, I didn't have my own backyard, just a
concrete patio outside my apartment barely big enough for a small
table and two chairs. But now that I have a yard and a patio big
enough for entertaining, I went to Lowe's a few weeks ago and bought
some patio furniture and a grill, as I had long wanted to do. I've
enjoyed grilling several times this spring (sometimes even with
veggies from my own garden!) and to kick off the unofficial first
weekend of summer, I hosted a cookout. I grilled chicken, hamburgers,
and a few veggies, and my friends brought side dishes and desserts.
Everyone pitched in to get things ready. Jen cut up tomatoes. Damon
instructed me on grilling technique. Sarah carried plates and
silverware outside. Tayelor cut beautiful hydrangeas for the table.
The other Jen put strawberries and whipped cream in the fridge to
chill until they were ready to be put on top of pound cake later. I
lit mosquito-repellant tiki torches and citronella candles, and set up
my iPod speakers so we could enjoy the party mix I had created for the
     This is what I had looked forward to most about having a grill, how it
would be a good excuse to host the people I love at my house. I am a
true introvert, but a very social one. When I love people, I love them
an awful lot, and I love having them around as often as possible. Even
though the tomatoes were a little underripe, and the hamburgers had a
hard time holding together on the grill, and the torches didn't
completely keep the bugs away, it was everything I hoped it would be.
We sat under the stars talking and laughing for hours. The weather was
ideal, with a cool breeze and not too much humidity. Hurley and his
doggie friend Thunder enjoyed being out in the yard with us, or
watching us through the glass door from inside in the air
conditioning. Several times, someone would say, "Oh, I love this
song!" and connections were made, memories shared. Everyone enjoyed
the company, though not all of them knew one another before that
night, and I took delight in watching the new acquaintances swap email
addresses or recipes. Not many moments in life completely live up to
my expectations, but in the middle of this simple cookout, I couldn't
help but say a prayer of thanks for a perfect evening.


Monday, May 21, 2012


     I need the ocean. I'm not sure how I survived most of my life without being able to stand with my feet licked by waves anytime I needed it. And I feel the need for it often. When my own loneliness or the stresses of life or the emotional toll of my job get too heavy, I need the weightlessness of seawater. Even if I can't submerge my body, lose myself in a sort of re-baptism as I sometimes want to, even wading is enough. 
     The water reminds me how small and finite and fragile I am, but that I am a unique character in a grand story much longer than my lifetime. A friend wondered as we walked the beach one day whether these waters could have been drops of the Red Sea parted by Moses. And I laughed when I heard a child another day tell an adult, "Some of this ocean probably used to be dinosaur pee!" Mother Teresa said that all the good we can do is just a drop in the ocean, but without it the ocean would be less. I think about that quote often as I take walks on the beach after a long night at the hospital. Those are the times when I most need the ocean to remind me. And it's always there.


View under the Congress Avenue Bridge (bat bridge), Austin, TX
     14 days.  10 states.  Four plane flights. 1760+ miles by car. Two graduations. One exploratory grad school trip.
     It's been a busy two weeks. From the bat bridge in Austin, TX to the silver arch in St. Louis, MO, from the dusty reds and browns of the desert southwest to yellow and green midwestern squares, it's been two weeks of wandering and wondering through the natural beauty of this country.  Each place carries a different charm and offers another piece of the story of our intertwined lives.
     So much of travel is simply being where you are.  Sitting in a plane on the runway listening to the different voices around you.  Trying to remember some college Spanish in a restaurant in Texas.  Watching bats emerge from under a bridge.  Trying to take a picture of an arch in Missouri that doesn't fit in your camera frame.  Checking out different fruits and vegetables in the local grocery. Watching oil pump from a well in Indiana.  If you pay attention, travel opens you up to new perspectives and unexpected beauty. It knocks you off balance, out of your narrow routines and prejudices, and opens the window to a fresh view of life.  
     And then, at the end of the journey, there's the grace and blessing of your own pillow at home.  Ahh. 

Stolen Moment
    I sit for a moment and watch it rain, the air heavy with salt and marsh and earthy ozone. The subtle switch to summer settles into the sinuous channels dividing the marsh, water rushing to the ocean, like seniors after the last school bell. Fragments of the song, 'Summertime" and the livin is easy' drift through my mind. I notice mimosas have joined the landscape, their frilly, pink hats like a page torn from a Seuss book. Rivulets of rain make channels down the windshield, some coming through my cracked windows, cold drops plopping. All is quiet, even the trill of the red-winged blackbird absent from the expanse of the marsh.
    I love summer, with its ease and lightness of being, with its late afternoon thunderstorms. It makes me believe there's time. TIme to put off chores, sleep in a lounge chair, watch a caterpillar crawl. Mary Oliver in her poem Summer Day describes how she takes the whole day to stroll through the fields, being idle and blessed. 
"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?"
      This, of course, is so true.
      So I sit in the rain where the livin's easy, being blessed.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Patience and perspective

This painting by Townsend DavidsonTownsend Davidson hangs in Ashley River Tower at MUSC. 
I like how it plays with perspective the way supermoons do. 

Lost in space

     We watched a full moon rise Saturday night, with thin clouds bisecting it. I turned off the car radio to a chorus of complaints from the three kids jamming to the music so we could watch it in silence.
     “Why can’t we leave the radio on?” asks my teenager. “We can still see it rise.”
     Another child pipes in, “Are you even watching it or playing electronics?”
     “Uhh, yeah, where is it?”
     Explaining that this is a supermoon, bigger and brighter than ever for just this one night because of its closer passage to the Earth, I insist on a moment of silence to honor it. There’s a pause. “Oh my gosh, that’s incredible. It looks so big,” says the teenager who finally has looked.
     I’m pleased we can share this moment of a rising supermoon.  The moon gives me chills, dwarfing the horizon as it does, dwarfing me, reminding me of the celestial spin we’re on - of how we’re not the center of our own universe. I get the same feeling when I journal or serve at the family shelter or help a friend or watch one of my children sleep. It’s that being part of something bigger, that both shrinks and expands me at the same time.
      I start to comment on perspective, how important it is to switch gears for the celestial view sometimes, but I get interrupted.
     “Are we going to be there in time for the movie’s start?”
      I shake my head and smile, responding yes. I turn up the radio and flip on my turn signal. Moment over. But there, for an instance, I felt the Earth move.


     I am learning patience from my garden. It has been weeks now since I planted tomato, squash, and pepper plants (not to mention strawberries, but the birds take the fruit from those before I even have a chance to admire it), and finally there are signs that my care
for the plants has not been in vain. After all the watering, fertilizing, weeding, and checking on them every day, at last there are vegetables at different stages of development on all the plants.
      The first little tomatoes appeared a couple of weeks ago, and many more have joined them since. I even ate two red ripe fruits from the plant this week. The squash began coming in a bit later. I was amazed as I watched the large orange-yellow flowers seemingly turn inside out and become recognizable squash-shapes. Some of them should be ready to pick any day now (if the dreaded squash borer bugs my friend Carrie
told me about don't get to them first). 
     I had nearly given up on the green peppers. That plant was the last to flower, and having never watched vegetables grow (I'm embarrassed to admit), I was not even
sure which part would turn into the edible bell peppers like the ones I bought in stores. Just a few days ago, I finally saw that one little pepper-shape had formed, as if by magic, overnight. But it won't be ready to pick for awhile. It will need sunshine, rain, my continuing care, and time. I will just have to be patient.

Graduation at Furman University,  May 2012

     Graduation.  A time of endings and new beginnings.  For us, it's the end of an era of moving daughters in and out of Furman University each year. Savannah graduated on Saturday, moved out of her apartment on Sunday and began a whirlwind week of travel to discover what's next for her.  Graduation is an emotional rollercoaster for both students and their feeling-suddenly-much-older parents.  There's sadness over friends, professors and a beautiful campus left behind along with excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty over what lies ahead.  
     But in the midst is gratitude (at least from this mom's perspective).  Gratitude for great professors who were challenging teachers and good mentors,  for best friends and roommates who pulled each other through long study nights and college drama, and for those late night philosophical/spiritual/political conversations with friends that change and shape an outlook on life.   Gratitude for a beautiful, safe campus here in South Carolina and gratitude for study away programs to England, Scotland, Spain, New Orleans, Mexico and Turkey  which helped my daughters learn and experience more about this new global world in which we all live.
     A good education helps you grow into a person more interested in others than yourself; challenges your own (and your parents!) assumptions and beliefs about the world we live in; takes you places you've never been - both intellectually and physically;  and gives you friends to last a lifetime.
     For all these blessings and many more,  thanks Furman.