Swamp Lanterns

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Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a plant called, “skunk cabbage”. You may know it, as it sprouts up in other parts of the country as well. It appears as a yellow sconce of slick petals housing a small “wick” of seeds. It can be quite startling passing by a “barren” patch of a mud hole for most of the year, then seeing these “surprises” pop up as a roomful of yellow lights, populating the ground with color.

The other name for this plant is “swamp lantern”. I prefer this name. I think it represents the plant more elegantly, and truer to its form. A thing of beauty. A thing of brightness. The unexpected emerging from the thick and lightless.

For those of us who traverse often or not so often, through the mud, we are grateful for swamp lanterns as they appear- yellow and bright, a sudden burst of glow from seemingly out of nowhere. This metaphor can reach into so many corners. A loving, energizing phone call or email in the middle of the day. The peeking out of the sun, creating seams of light on hems of dark clouds. A kind gesture, simple and human.

May swamp lanterns appear in the muddy places throughout your week. And may you, yourself, be a swamp lantern as well.

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Sipping the Nectar of “Ordinary” Days

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picture by Ginny Schneider

As I continue on my journey through the days of  the ordinary (which, by the way, is amidst some rather “unordinary” life circumstances), I am reminded, believe it or not, of the word, “nectar” . Besides the sweet, sticky, sugary substance which is lifeblood for pollinators, one of its other definitions is “the life-giving drink of the gods.” That brings to mind for me some sort of amazing golden liquid that both delights and sustains.

So as I think about it, taking in the sweet, the good, the beautiful, the “daily amazing” nectar of life is literally “life giving”. Sucking the marrow, drinking the nectar, tasting the ambrosia are not only pleasantries, or delicacies for special occasions, but are actual necessities. We can’t do without them.

They are like the free gifts tumbled out on our doorstep with a note and a giggle as the giver runs away. They can be as simple as the relishing of the taste of coffee mixed with cream and warmth at breakfast time. Or the re-reading of an email or an instant message that was just so nice that it had to be savored again.

I received one of those today:

“I prayed for you on the edge of Spot Pond thinking of the water carrying my prayers to you on your island. Blessings. Blessings. Blessings.”

Refreshing. Tasty. Nectar. And you can always go back and savor it again, as memory is its perfect gustatory accompaniment!

Happy daily ambrosia to you!

The rite music: “Suddenly I See”

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Ginny at 18.

At Ginny’s second rite of passage, there was a song I knew I had to include because it spoke to me and into me the words I would have wanted to hear at age 18. As I listened carefully to the lyrics, I realized that it was actually describing my daughter and who she is right then- not a hope or a wish, but a present reality. It made me deeply smile.  Finding the right words to explain the soul or character of another person can be indelibly satisfying. What do you “see” in your child?

“Suddenly I See”

by KT Tunstall

Her face is a map of the world
Is a map of the world
You can see she’s a beautiful girl
She’s a beautiful girl. And everything around her is a silver pool of light
The people who surround her feel the benefit of it
It makes you calm
She holds you captivated in her palmSuddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me?I feel like walking the world
Like walking the world
You can hear she’s a beautiful girl
She’s a beautiful girlShe fills up every corner like she’s born in black and white
Makes you feel warmer when you’re trying to remember
What you heard
She likes to leave you hanging on her wordSuddenly I see . . .She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
(That’s me in the bottom right-hand corner back when I was wishing for a song . . .)
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Me (the girl with the large feathered hair, bottom right corner) in my teens. I guess the “feathered” theme started early!

Second Rite of Passage: Ginny’s choice, a Quaker Clearness Circle

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I had asked Ginny a few weeks prior to this rite of passage, what offering I could give her at the event?

“A Quaker Clearness Circle!” was her reply.

Now, granted, not every 18 year old asks for one of these, or even knows what one is, but Ginny had seen it done before and was impressed- not like “wow!” impressed, but im-pressed, pressed upon, touched, marked by it.

“I would love to give you one of those,” I replied. “What question would you like to bring to the group?”

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Quaker Clearness Circle or “Committee” is a group of people chosen by someone, in this case, Ginny, to focus on an important question the asker would like to explore. It could be regarding job choice, a move, readiness for marriage, or as Ginny was wanting, assistance in deciding on entering The Mission Year program, where she would voluntarily live in community, serving the poor on the south side of Chicago.

The committee is asked to only ask questions that will help dig deeper into the question. No answers are provided. No answers are expected. It is the gift of community companionship in the form of engaged questions, often with the asker facing away, so that body language isn’t an influence. It is an interesting process. I’ve done it twice now, and it is indeed a rare and priceless gift.

We bestowed this present upon Ginny, and couple of hours later, we ended the Quaker Clearness Circle and the rite of passage. Questions, and questions, and questions. Answered by more questions. Young woman asking a question. Older women fine-tuning it with more questions. Answers in the form of questions. And silence. Thick, heavy silence. Food for thought. Comfort food. Heavy, rich, amazing comfort food and room to digest some of it on the way home. . .

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Second Rite of Passage: a word, a bird, and a hand massage

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As I mentioned, the bulk of the weekend were experiential “gifts” from all of the women invited to Ginny’s second rite of passage. This was the best kind of present as it left an indelible mark of the giver’s presence in my daughter’s life. Here’s a taste of the first offerings as reflected in my juicy juicy journal:

“After a while, a migration was made into the den, the place of last night’s nest. Karmyn quietly encouraged us to open up our chests and hearts to the new day. A stretch towards the sky. Then a train of massages, back, then back, then back. Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders. Gentle music of peace and old time hymnody. Partners scattered in twins across the room. Almond oil. Aromatic lotions. A time to massage the hands of one another. Sharon’s hand slips like a fish in and out of mine. Rub. Squeeze. It’s amazing- the topography of hands: muscles, bones, freckles, gradations in skin tone. The rich smell of thick almond lotion pasted on hands. A joyful swish of Karmyn’s long hair and a blessing, and the movement moves on. . . .

Scattered on the ground are: “Birds of North America”, Tricia’s birding journal posted with stamps and stories, poetry and quotations, and blank white stickers.

“When I was in Belize for three years,” she says, “there was not a lot to do.”

She took up birding. It helped her make the jungle her home. Neo-tropic birds. Memorable moments. Calls that called to her, “I think you’re pretty! I think you’re pretty!” she thought she heard one bird say.

She reminds us that the books tell us that every bird has a color, has a call, has a place and asks us to find three things in us to share that make a place a home.

“A potted plant to care for. Photographs of the old life and the new. A local textile for the bed.  Mapping out the geography of place. Sinking deep into the history of where you are. These are a few. And then, find three things we want to look for in a relationship, just like the characteristics of neo-tropic birds. The plumage is not the most important. Look for compassion in the eyes. Have the same migration path. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Laugh. Laugh together. Laugh with and at each other. Laugh. Then think of three things we must do, our life lists, like a birding life list, three things. Kayak at night. Full immersion in the local custom. Hike every trail in the Sierras. Plant a garden. Those are a few. There are so many more.”

These were the things we were to chew on at local restaurant. So much to share with one another in the world of journeying women. What might be your contribution? What journey would you take the rest of us on in that bright hour?

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Second Rite of Passage: This One’s for the Girls!

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Now, you can’t leave a kid with only tunes from troubled teen-hood, can you? You’ve got to bring her up to date with your current “poems, prayers, and promises” (well, in a manner of speaking).

The next activity up for sharing was “a desired anthem”- the song we wish we could have heard in our late teens. As we shared our picks, we realized we were not only singing them to Ginny, but also to ourselves. It was salve to the heart . . . . Here’s a few tidbits from a few songs. Imagine getting to hear these lyrics sung to you as a young woman:

“Her face is a map of the world, is a map of the world. And you can see she’s a beautiful girl, she’s a beautiful girl. And everything around her is a silver pool of light. The people who surround her feel the benefit of it. It makes you calm. She holds you captivated in her palm. Suddenly I see, this is what I want to be . . .” from Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall.

“In the easy silence that you make for me, it’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me, and the peaceful quiet you create for me, and the way you keep the world at bay for me . . . the way you keep the world at bay . . .” from Easy Silence by the Dixie Chicks.

“So sit down and write that letter, sign up and join the fight, sink in to all that matters, step out into the light . . . so many years from now long after we are gone these trees will spread their branches out and bless the dawn . . .” from Planting Trees by Andrew Peterson.

“Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces, calling out the best of who we are, and I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story; I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside . . .” from Add to the Beauty by Sara Groves.

“This one’s for the girls who’ve ever had a broken heart who’ve wished upon a shooting star; you’re beautiful the way you are; this one’s for the girls who love without holding back, who dream with everything they have all around the world; this one’s for the girls,

yeah, this one’s for the girls . . .” from This One’s for the Girls by Martina McBride.

You get the picture . . . . what song would you have wanted to hear at age 18?

Second rite of passage: considering the theme

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Ginny in her quilted “nest”.

Ginny’s first rite of passage was such a big hit on everyone’s radar (for the adults as well as the fledgling teen), that she and I were ready for round 2. Because the palette of colors was so rich in our first attempt (great food, great wisdom, great music), we thought, “why not broaden the spectrum”? Instead of a day retreat, we opted for a full weekend. More time for mentoring, more time for questions, more time for frolicking with the old fogies (I jest).

It was important when considering the thematic idea for this second rite of passage at age 18, that I look at current life circumstances and areas of “itching” importance for Ginny. Living in community was a biggie. She was considering moving in with a team of 5 other twenty-somethings (she being the only teenager) to volunteer on the south side of Chicago. So “community” was a consideration, but so could have been “living artfully” or “being the gift others open up”.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, in the end, we opted for “The Community Nest”. This one could bring out great lessons in “playing well with others” as well as incorporating fun aviary images such as “nesting”, “flying”, and “coming home”. . . . More twigs and feathers upcoming in the next post!