The Gathering

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“Rothko Sunrise” by JohnTaylor Wildfeuer

Breakfast: a sip of blue and alpenglow, followed by a swath of mango-sky and mountain melt, then finished off with a sorbet of sunrise.

Mmmmm . . . couldn’t be better. To begin the celebration of midlife with this kind of smoothie seems the perfect antidote to the common middle-aged ideas of endings, closures, winding-downs, and finishings. This feels more like a great big beginning, with the natural world concocting some sort of eye tempting breakfast drink to start my day. To start my life. Before I gather with my co-conspirators in celebrating my second half, I will gather myself.

What have I collected in this body of mine over the past 50 years? This body of information, this body of experience, this body of work?

What poetry of life has been gathered into this one perfect being I call “myself”? (And I use “perfect” in the ever-complete-in-each-moment sense. Every moment is a chance to be once again perfect or complete. Anyway, I diverge).

What juicy phrases and phases, unique mixtures of life, love, work, wildness, and companionship have created this cocktail of me?

I will sip on this.

 

 

 

Maya Angelou Crosses the Threshold

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Ask Me Who Maya Angelou Is

 

and I’ll tell you.

She is the rich purple plum

in my throat that oozes voice

when silence seeks to silence me.

 

She is the gangly parts of my soul

that don’t quite fit into a room,

and shouldn’t, reminding me

that I am much bigger than I perceive.

 

She is the woman, parceled out

in pieces, all over the world’s hardwood

floors, then somehow strung back together

into a silk significance nobody could

have imagined.

 

She is the poetry of what one life can become.

 

– Gina Marie Mammano, in remembrance of Maya Angelou

 

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 Reflection: Ginny, the most memorable moment?

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“When I try to pull moments and events from my 18th rite of passage in order to categorize one or another as the most impactful or the most important, I can’t really. You see, they’re all woven into one experience and to separate them would be to unravel the thread and see something different altogether. So I was stumped, I couldn’t think of what would be the superlative moment; I didn’t know what to pick without picking all of it. But as I started to let the question settle in me the answer reverberated back in patches of color and sounds and gestures that conformed into many shapes, women shapes, Karmyn and Nancy shapes, Mom and Sharon and Jessie, Maril and Tricia shapes. Yeah, they were the best part. I guess I realized that I loved them not only because they were a part of my heritage, my mom’s support that was passed down to me, but that they represented a wonderful, colorful, real diversity of women.

Lately I get paralyzed with the idea of becoming an adult. Suddenly the freedom of choices and opportunity to trail blaze that so enthralled me when I was younger now stare me down and dare me to make the first move; and I feel like I’m shrinking. Like I’m going to implode. Sometimes the pressure around my head and heart is so tight I feel like I’m fighting my way through a birth canal that’s too small, and it is pushing me out regardless, as each approaching season brings another contraction, another inch closer to entering a new country- I don’t know where. I feel trapped by the bifurcation of where I will “inevitably” exist and live in for the next forty years. I know that this is hyperbolic, dichotomized, falsely, I hope, but it still feels that way a lot of the time.

But more than the events and projects, spontaneous dancing and art making, it’s the handful of women around me that gives me courage and better yet, a passion for my adulthood to come. They’re all so different, so dynamic and wholly themselves, creating life around them and for themselves that in their adulthood reflects their own unique passions, pursuits, and persons. Of course they, like everyone else, carry their younger selves in them still, but they didn’t get stuck at 18 or 20, they took her with them and stepped forward through one day at a time, and then they arrived-or rather are still arriving-at this other country called adulthood. It’s their specific and unique lifestyles and personalities that show me that my own life can and will be fashioned into something courageous, beautiful, and my own.”

– Ginny

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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: sizzles and twists

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That Saturday, so much juiciness was packed into that luscious recipe of a day, that we could barely hold more, but we did!

Behind the kitchen counter.  Maril held brown gift bags adorned with flames of purple and pink tissue paper flaring out. “Your mom asked me to give you the gifts of the stomach,” she said. Then out came a set of measuring cups and spoons. A cookbook with pockets.

“I’m going to teach you to make a meal that you can serve to all your friends!” And there it was: community in six courses. Rosemary lemon roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, mushroom gravy, sautéed yellow squash, and apple pie.

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For an hour or so in the kitchen. Ginny was trailing her at every turn for worthwhile instruction in the arts of steam and butter. “Squeeze two lemons over the chickens, then stuff one of them inside, and leave one in the pan. Sprinkle rosemary, salt and pepper over them. Put them in the oven.”

Time ticks on quickly, then resounds a ring. “Ginny, present the meal!” The feast is laid. One more beginning cook starting out on her culinary journey.

The table is set around a collection of beautiful hand-collaged plaques. Wine, anyone? Not for you, Ginny . . . yet!

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Second Rite of Passage: face the music!

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Of course, we needed to share our musical wisdom with my daughter at this second rite of passage event! So much to glean from The Cure, The Bangles, or Sting! I introduced this portion of the evening, bellies still interiorly stuck with pot pie, mashed potatoes and love:

“We’ve all picked songs that meant something to us when we were in the transition time between high school and college. When it’s your turn to share your song, describe why you chose it, the circumstances behind it, or what it meant to you without revealing the title or the artist.”

The women played their music and shared truly, madly, deeply:

” . . . was an early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn . . .”

“I played this song over and over when I made the trip from Florida to South Carolina and back again. It represents freedom. It was a time in my life when I could feel the wind in my hair and was ready for a new adventure. I still love it. I just played it again on a trip just a few weeks ago.”

Bah, 2-3-4 bah, 2-3-4 bah, bump-bump-a! Bah . . . .

Elton John. “I’m Still Standing.” My song. “When I graduated high school, my boyfriend and I broke up. This song helped me bridge through the sorrow. It strengthened me through it.”

“I know this song sounds so trite. . .I was a cheerleader at my high school and it was a time in my life, in our lives, when we were trying to figure it all out:”

“I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment’s gone . . . dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.”

“We had this whole album memorized.” John Denver’s Poems, Prayers, and Promises begins to play. “This song especially speaks to the things to me that life is all about. It reminded me of home.” The quiet folk guitar picking peters out.

“Now, going from one extreme to the next . . . as class president four years in a row, I had to invoke school spirit, so we had a routine to this song.”

Love Shack.

“Show us!”

“Do you see a little shack on the side of the road . . .?”

Yes, the whole shack shimmied. The whole shack shimmied.

And then, a rough-hewn voice and a twangy guitar:

“I never wanted to be better than my friends I just wanted to prove wrong the people in my head.” Ginny’s turn. “I chose this song because, for one thing, I can’t choose another that I wish I could have heard at 18, because I am 18, so this is the song I’m choosing now, at this time in my life.” “So I rode my bike like lightning and I made cappuccinos that would make the angels sing, took two showers a day and I dressed up like a princess, shook my fist in my own face and said I’ll show you who’s the best!”

Again, an opportunity to share, and to be shared with. Ginny glistened with awe and wonder (and a barely noticeable wry smile) as she watched us confess our teenage hearts . . . “lookin’ like a true survivor, feelin’ like a little kid . . .”

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