Friday, October 26, 2007

a man for all seasons

one morning my apprentice summer on the Clearwater we were told, "we have to do an extra good deckwash today, and we're even sending three of you out in the yawl boat to scrub the hull. jim's crew is filming us today." here's part of the trailer for the new documenary about Pete Seeger and an interview with Jim Brown, the director. i'm grateful to hear pete's life and work spoken about so clearly, and to be reminded of how deeply his witness sits inside my own vocation. bruce springsteen says in this clip:
pete was one of those guys that saw himself as a citizen artist, as activist. he had a very full idea about those things, how it connected to music, and what music could do. the power that music had to influence, to inspire.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"i kin ye"

i've long been a fan of "kitchen songs and mornings spent with friends," as Kate Wolf's song The Trumpet Vine puts it. In fact, some friends and I have named ourselves "The I Want To Feed You Pankaces Mutual Aid Society." i was listening to Kate Wolf as i enjoyed my particularly hard-earned breakfast just now: i'm recovering from an ACL repair surgery, so i made my hashbrowns and eggs and coffee slowly and carefully, balanced on one leg and crutches. i ate sitting on the kitchen counter. it was wonderful!
now it seems the truest words i ever heard from you
were said at kitchen tables we have known
'cause somehow in that warm room with coffee on the stove
our hearts were really most at home

this morning i did not feel lonely. sometimes my wisest friends point out to me that we don't have to be in the same place, or exchanging words, to be together. i felt very much connected, felt "kin" to the stories i'm living and hearing about. i've heard that in Cherokee culture you say "i kin ye" when we might say "i love you," "i understand you," or "you're important to me." very often i try to engineer "kitchen table moments," "i kin ye" moments, assuming if we're in the same place we'll be in communion. i feel frustrated when our hearts refuse to come home.

what i did feel this morning was a gentle, sweet, and strong compassion with all sorts of human loss. i've done a fair bit of what felt like mourning since my surgery: for being stuck at home alone, for being less mobile, for not being much of a contemplative during my convalescence. crying about these things helps some, but i was lying through my teeth when i said, "i feel so much more compassion now for shut-ins." i think i still put my own shame and frustration on others, want to get back to the society of "capable people" ASAP, and run from hospitals and nursing homes.

before breakfast i finished A Place on Earth, one of Wendell Berry's Port William novels. i know enough of Berry's story, what he stands for, the lives and heritage of his characters, and what they stand for that i approach them as dear friends. these friends learn about the loss of their beloved son in WWII, and i sat with them through that for six months or so of their new lives, and as his daughter, their grandchild is born and comes to live with them.

my own mourning of the past ten days, once i gave it time, provided a "way in" to Mat Feltner's loss in the book, as he and i have gone together through worry, estrangement, sleepless nights, and doing what needs to be done for the children. this morning i followed him to rest an renewal. in the kitchen, listening to Kate Wolf, i felt all the losses in the world. i cried for the monks in Burma, for families torn apart by deportation and war, for everyone who feels trapped and alone and who holds onto memories. Mat sits in a clearing in the woods, looking at rock cairns that indicate the land was once cultivated:
and the dead who made that clearing are as forgotten as the forest they destroyed. as he sits looking at the heaped rocks, guessing the little he is able to guess about them, there comes to Mat a sense of a lost and dead past, a past perfect, without even the force of a memory. and though he resisted the thought, fearing it would sadden him, it does not sadden him. there in the presence of the woods, in the sounds of the water and the leaves falling...he feels the great restfulness of the place.

some rests we can only get to on the other side of tears, on the other side of anxiety, after we've let in the people and stories, and after our hearts have come home. mat feltner, i kin ye. wendell berry, i kin ye. dog barking next door, i kin ye. blessed sabbath!