Clinging to peaches

Here’s how good this year’s peaches have been. Earlier this week, PW said, “Fifty years from now we’re going to be saying to each other, ‘Remember that summer 50 years ago when the peaches were so good??'”

So here we are in October. The days are getting shorter. The time change is a month away, after which it will be dark here around 4:15. The window on the availability of these extraordinary peaches is rapidly closing. My father is in surgery at this very moment. My officemate is burying her last remaining grandparent, also at this very moment. Beloved friends and mentors are grappling with cancer, surgeries, traumas of all kinds. My boss just buried her best friend, dead from cancer at 42. Friends are rocked by controversies and conflicts in their vocations. I could go on, but, really, the headline I haven’t seen in any newspaper or social media feed is: 15 Reasons Why You Should Try One Of This Year’s Peaches.

The peaches stand alone.0916141325

Later this afternoon I’ll head over to the farmers market in hopes of collecting another batch of these fuzzy globes of summer, along with whatever straggling tomatoes I can find. And we’ll eat them under the shadow of the fear: “What if they’re never this good again?”

Lately I’ve had this sticky mantra in my head: “Forget the steps already trod.” It’s from the hymn, “Awake My Soul Stretch Every Nerve.” It pops up like surprise toast at the weirdest times. It’s got me wondering if fear is just another way of rehashing the steps already trod, of clinging to the memory of this summer’s peaches even as we’re still eating them. I wonder if fear is a way of hunkering down against every nerve being stretched (and, inevitably, plucked).

This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine will include an article about the writer, Marilynne Robinson, whose latest book “Lila” is being published this month. The article begins with Robinson weighing in on fear:

“I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.” Perched on the edge of a sofa, hands loosely clasped, Robinson leaned forward as if breaking bad news to a gentle heart. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations…Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

Can we overcome our fear with the very peaches that provoke it? It’s an experiment I’m willing to try. Even before my experiment is over, I submit this poem as an abstract for the endeavor. I’ve included it in my blog before, but it bears repeating.

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


Tin: Soft, pliable, superconducting, resists corrosion, with the greatest number of stable isotopes

Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" played on kazoos








Updated to include some info about tin that I found for a post on Facebook earlier today.

Tin is a soft, pliable, silvery-white metal. Tin is not easily oxidized in air and is used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion.

Tin was one of the first superconductors to be studied; the Meissner effect, one of the characteristic features of superconductors, was first discovered in superconducting tin crystals.

Tin is the 49th most abundant element, and has the the largest number of stable isotopes, 10. This large number of stable isotopes is thought to be a direct result of tin possessing an atomic number of 50, which is a “magic number” in nuclear physics.

Today PW and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. Tin is the traditional gift for this anniversary, so we’re calling it our tinth anniversary.

We had it all cattywampus, of course. We were five years into building a life together before we could have a wedding to legally recognize the marriage we had already begun. We had already exchanged rings, at different times no less. I found a ring I liked before PW did, so we got mine first. Months later, PW found one she liked, and, while different, it shares the same basic features of mine: hammered, dented silver surrounding a smaller, smooth gold band. We both like the reminder that we were already dented when we found each other. It helps beat back the toxic lure of perfection.

I made the video (below) to celebrate our fifth anniversary. Technology being what it is, I can’t find the original file so that I can change it for our tinth anniversary. But I do love the marriage of this song with the images. The story this little video tells is a small glimpse into our ordinary yet miraculous life together.

Happy tinth anniversary to my one-iest one. See you tonight at dinner at that place with the food where we have a coupon. I’ll be the one wearing the same peach-colored linen jacket I wore 10 years ago today.

Do you know that you’re holy?

PW and I have been attending graduation ceremonies in even-numbered years since 2000. Tonight, GForce graduates from high school. It’s the ninth graduation we’ve attended since 2000. That a lot of crossing overs!

Those of us who are able, thanks to good health or availability or both, are gathering to celebrate this crossing of a threshold. Stories spill out of us. We can’t even contain them.

I have never been one of those parents who wanted to freeze my child at a particular age, or to stop time, or to wish I could turn back the clock. However, I will admit to a fleeting moment of what I can only describe as anticipatory nostalgia.

When GForce was a baby, she had an infectious smile. I suspect most, if not all, parents feels this way. A baby’s smile is like a laser that cuts through the fog of parental sleep-deprivation and confusion. For me, the smile is an infant’s first crossing over from the blob of need phase to becoming a relatable human being.

gums and toes

I was besotted by GForce’s toothless grin. I’d stare at it, and when she wasn’t smiling I’d stare at this photo of her. And my recurring thought was, “Man, teeth are going to RUIN that smile.”

Yes, I actually thought that. One day, I said it out loud, to no one at all. But the act of hearing the words hanging in the air, as opposed to inside my head, was like a bucket of cold water. I could finally hear how ridiculous it was to want her to remain a tiny toothless infant.

I’ve never thought of GForce as “my baby.” I don’t know why. Maybe by the time I’d given birth in my late 30s, I’d had Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of the Gibran poem, “On Children” embedded in my brain.

I have always felt like GForce chose me to bring her into the world. This notion has gotten me through some long nights where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. It’s felt like a buoy and a first place blue ribbon and an honorary degree, all at the same time.

As this day approached, one of my favorite singer/songwriters released a new album. I couldn’t have hoped for better. Thank you, Kris Delmhorst, for giving me the perfect song to accompany this ninth graduation in the past 15 years.2013-08-05 06.11.01

Every time I have listened to Delmhorst’s song “Homeless” over the past month, I have gotten that catch in my throat, in my heart, when she sings the question, “Do you know that you’re holy?”

The first time I heard it, I was making dinner. I wasn’t following along with the lyrics; they were floating out over the stove. I never saw it coming, this question, “Do you know that you’re holy?” It nearly buckled my knees. Tears fell into the clam sauce I was stirring.

My goal as a parent is for each of my daughters to be able to hear that question and to be able to sing back some kind of “Yes.” Or even a “Maybe.” Or “I want to.” And when they can’t answer that question, I hope they have communities of people they can call on to remind them. And if not, they can always call home. Or look up.

by Kris Delmhorst

The silence & the sea
Who you’re supposed to be
When the faces on the page and the faces in the mirror look the same
The cradle & the crutch
It’s supposed to hurt this much
When the highways turn to roads into streets into alleys
Then at last into paths you can’t get through

Do you know that you’re homeless
Do you know that you’re lonely
Do you know that you’re only passing through?

Years roll along
Sorrow turns to song
And your tears flow like rain into streams into rivers
That at last find their path to the sea

Do you know that we’re homeless
Do you know that we’re lonely
Do you know that we’re only passing through?

Do you know that you’re holy
Do you know that I love you
Do you know that above you is blue?
Do you?

Prom to pulpit in < 48 hours

A few weeks ago, GForce’s priest asked her if she’d be willing to preach at Youth Sunday on June 1. He even made it easy on her by suggesting that she could simply read her college application essay. PW and I both said we thought she should put a few sermony touches on the essay.

On Thursday, GForce sent me an email with the subject line: Preachy McPreach-Pants in need of some editing help!

We talked about a couple of tweaks she could make at the end. I said I thought she should say something about her experience growing up in the parish. PW told her, “Every sermon should invite the listeners to do something great. Even if it’s just to continue the great things they’re already doing.”

Then everything went on hold for the prom, which was Friday night. In a couple of hours, GForce went from a curly-haired gangly teen in t-shirts and athletic shorts to straight-haired glam queen in a strapless, floor-length dress. If the Internet weren’t so skeevy, I’d share a photo of her more broadly. In one of the photos, her leg is peeking out of the slit in her dress. A bandaid punctuates her knee. Her face is beaming. Classic.

After sleeping for most of the day Saturday, she finished up the sermon and showed it to us. PW and I both cried. When she rehearsed, PW gave her some tips on how to open up her chest so that her voice would be bigger and fuller, more grounded. The transformation was so huge, GForce jumped back and exclaimed, “Whoa! How does that work??” I won’t get into the specifics, but here’s a clue. At the top and bottom of each of the three pages of her sermon, GForce wrote in big red letters “Dinosaur tail!” Suzanne E., thank you!

Sunday morning was full of “Wow!” It’s so fun to watch children find and share their own senses of authority and wisdom. It’s infinitely more fun, and mind-boggling, when you get to see this in your own children. GForce commanded the pulpit, delivering the sermon beautifully, with confidence and humor. Even more impressively, she handled the long standing ovation at the end with complete grace and humility. If there were any dry eyes in the house, I didn’t see them.

First of all, I’d like to thank Jeff for inviting me to speak today.

When I was a baby, if my moms dressed me in bold colors instead of the traditional “girl” colors of pinks and pastels, people frequently mistook me for a boy.

Once, in the checkout line at Target, a woman behind us was looking at me in my little car seat carrier. I was dressed in a red and black onesie. First she smiled, then she gasped and grabbed my mom’s arm and said, “Honey, now why would you go and put lipstick on that baby boy?” We have always laughed about how baffled my mom felt by the stranger’s question. First, I am not a boy, and secondly, my lips are naturally that color!

That woman looked at me, but she didn’t see me. I guess when she couldn’t immediately decipher my gender by glancing at my clothing, and since I wasn’t wearing one of those elastic bow headbands, she assumed I must be a boy.

As you can see, I still don’t look like most of the girls around me. I’m six feet tall. I have this poof of wild curly hair. I prefer my clothes loose, comfortable, and boldly colored. Most of the time this is not an issue, except when I use public bathrooms.

The first time someone told me I was in the wrong bathroom, I was seven years old. I walked into the bathroom at a mall, and the only open stall was near two teenage girls who were standing around looking at their phones. As I walked toward the open stall I asked the girls “Are you going to use that stall?” They stared at me, disgust radiating from their faces. One of them blurted, “What are YOU doing in here? This is the GIRL’S bathroom!” Struck with fear and confusion, I ran out.

This doesn’t just happen in bathrooms though. At the beginning of a math class during my sophomore year, a substitute teacher we’d never had before was taking attendance. When she called my name, I replied, “Here.” To my surprise, she stared at me with confusion. Then she angrily insisted I couldn’t possibly be named Grace, and demanded to know my real name. She thought I was a knuckleheaded boy messing with her. My face burning with embarrassment, I left the class and went immediately to the guidance office to ask for help. They let me stay in the guidance office until my next class.

The term “gender confusion” usually refers to a person’s internal wrestling with their own gender identity. In my experience, gender confusion is something other people frequently experience when they look at me. Even though it’s easy to feel singled out and humiliated by others’ confusion about my gender, I’ve learned from an early age that given the choice between being looked at or seen, I think most people prefer to be seen as the unique individuals they are. To really know a person, you have to see, not merely look.

My life has been a constant lesson in not allowing others’ narrow vision to tell me who I am. I would have preferred to learn this in an easier way, but that’s not a choice I get to make. My choice has been to either accept the girl I am or to become the kind of girl other people are looking for. With a lot of support from family and friends, I’ve chosen to stand tall and confident as the girl I am. Since I have so many opportunities to exercise this choice, I’m getting better at it every day.

One of the places where I have always felt seen and loved for who I am is right here at St. Paul’s. The relentless love and acceptance I have found in this community have never failed to put a smile on my face. More importantly, the sense of being safe at home that I feel at St. Paul’s is something I carry around inside me all the time.

When I see other people out there going through the same kinds of struggles with being looked at but not seen, I want them to know they’re not alone. And I want to continue to learn, and teach, new ways of truly seeing.

As I go off to college in the fall, I want you to know that I will be carrying St. Paul’s in my heart, and in the eyes I will use to see the new people I meet. My hope for this amazing community is that you will continue to provide a safe place, a home for people where they know they will be seen and loved for who they are.

Thank you.

Here’s a goofy video, but the lyrics are the first words that come to mind at times like this, with all my children.

“A slow section of a pas de deux in which the dancers perform steps requiring great skill in lifting, balancing, and turning.”

A lot of people I know are grieving. I find myself wondering, is this ever NOT true? Lately, death feels like a constant, heavy drumbeat. Today many of us said farewell to Maya Angelou. And as is often the case, most of our farewells were made after she’d left us. But we still need to say them.

I wrote the bulk of this post almost exactly four years ago. It feels as true as it’s ever been.

Last Friday, my extended family buried my cousin Rich. He died suddenly on May 18 at age 62. It still feels so weird to say. Like I should be talking about someone else. With Rich’s brilliant wit, booming laugh, encyclopedic mind, deep personal loyalty, and generous heart, my oldest cousin on my dad’s side enriched every life he touched. He was aptly named.

I’m not one who cares for that whole “He is in a better place” stuff. For me, the “better place” idea is one of the many theoretically helpful things people say to console someone else, or themselves. I know it’s usually well-intentioned, but I’d rather just have someone stand next to me and say nothing, or say, “This sucks.” Or, “I’m so sorry.” Or, “There are no words, so I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to stand here with you and breathe.”

Living on after losing a loved one feels to me like trying to dance with a missing partner. Like the title of this post, which is a definition for the word adagio, being left behind by death is slow, painfully slow, and it demands great skill and strength.

While nobody knows what comes after death for the ones who leave us, I do believe that on our side of things, it’s still possible to tend to an evolving relationship with a dead person. We survivors have to invent new moves, new words, new ears for listening more deeply than we’ve ever had to listen before. In my experience, the relationship doesn’t die with the person, but the change is so mind-boggling and heart-shattering, it can feel like the relationship is also dead.

For anyone else out there who is mourning, trying to figure out the new steps to this strange dance of loving someone who is no longer here, here’s a little poetic offering for you, one of my many attempts over the years to cobble together some shards of meaning out of incomprehensible loss. Linda, Frankie, Ann, Nancy, your families, and Rich’s enormous community of extended family and friends, this is especially for you, for us.


For J

In a last spinning step
you glided through the door that is no door.
The remaining steps – the ones we do without you –
follow the rhythms of
“I remember when…”
“Once when he…”

It is good, the dance of remembering,
and we practice it momently.
We use intricate moves to step through sorrow,
broader steps to trace a bad pun.

This movement between your world and ours
now demands a syncopation that is new to us.
Sometimes we improvise, with dipping and twirling.
Sometimes we take comfort in a set pattern
of predictable movement.
Often the dance is hard.
We forget our steps, or we don’t know them at all.
We bump into each other.
We are afraid to lead, or too stuck to follow.

Still, somehow, there is grace in our clumsiness.
Ours is an awkward grace of heavy feet
moving by the sheer force of will.
We are down one partner now,
but we dance our memories into the future as best we can.

We dance.
We must keep moving.

© Joy Howard, 1993/2010

Lyrics for Lord Huron’s “The Man Who Lives Forever”

I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it
Said that death is a deal that you cannot refuse
But I love you girl and I don’t wanna lose you

Don’t want a long ride
I don’t wanna die at all
I wanna be the man who lives forever
I ain’t never gonna die and I want you to come

I said life is a tale, it begins and it ends
And forever’s a word that we can’t understand
Well I know that my life’s better when we’re together
So why can’t our story just go on forever?

Don’t want a long ride
I don’t wanna die at all
I wanna be the man who lives forever
I ain’t never gonna die and I want you to come

I said life without end wouldn’t have any meaning
The journey to death is the point of our being
Well the point of my life is to be with you babe
But there ain’t enough time in the life that they gave me

I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it
Said that death is a deal that you cannot refuse
But I love you girl and I don’t wanna lose you

I wanna be the man who lives forever

And all those days and all those nights

Together forever, forever alive

Returning to Freedom

It’s Easter morning. Out the window, I see a woman walking her dog, just beyond the place where all three of our pets are buried. A tiny forsythia is hinting at blooming. The sky is bright blue. I could fill this entire post with the minutiae of things I can see out this one glass square in the back of our house.

Perhaps you know that only about five percent of the universe is stuff that can be directly observed. Ninety-five percent of our universe is essentially unknown to the scientists whose lives are devoted to studying it. So, for the rest of us, it’s probably closer to 99.99999 percent.

I love this kind of elbow room. Going to church, for me, has evolved into the practice of swimming and singing in this 95 percent. Oh, I love the five percent of observable things, too: the taste of the molasses communion bread, the sherry, the smell of beeswax, a beautiful oboe line soaring above a Bach chorale.

It occurred to me recently, after losing a long-time family friend to the plague that is cancer, Joan is free now. She’s free of that five percent of observable matter that was her body. She’s now returned to the freedom of being part of the mystery that is the bulk of the universe around us.

Do I know this for a fact? Hell no. Is truth bound by the knowable five percent of matter that we observe? Never has been. Never will be.

As my bride will say in her sermon later this morning, if you stumble over the word “believe,” substitute the word “belove.” If you stumble over the idea of celebrating the blood sacrifice of a man some 2000 years ago, here’s my trick: substitute the words “life and love” for “body and blood.” In my experience, it’s so much deeper to substitute the word “love” for “blood” any time you encounter it in church. If you stumble over the word “Father” for God, substitute “Author.” Participate in something that stretches you, that makes you think, that inspires you to ask new questions.

In the grand scheme of things, our stay on this earth is a snapshot. My Easter wish is that while you’re here, you participate in all of it, the five percent of what’s known and the 95% of what’s not known.

Happy Easter everyone!

Be Love

One year ago today, I wrote this. I feel even more resolved about it today.

The Crooked Line

Candles in the Abbey at Iona Candles in the Abbey at Iona

Last September, after more than a year of working with a committee to plan and write a grant application, PW received a big fat grant for her sabbatical. This is enabling her to do a lot of travelling this spring. A little more than a week ago, she and I returned from a spending Holy Week on the Isle of Iona in Scotland, with a side trip to London to see Helen Mirren and Judi Dench in their starring roles in two different plays.

This morning, I dropped PW off at the airport for several weeks of travelling to Israel (the village of Migdal in the Galilee, Jerusalem, and the West Bank if she can figure out how to get in), Turkey (Ephesus and Istanbul), and Provence.

We were both teary this morning as we looked at such a long time of being apart…

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