The myth of the ruby slippers

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors and a certified treasure to humanity, has some simple and direct advice when it comes to writing. It goes like this: “Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”

I’ve been writing – or pretending to write – this blog post for months and it’s high time I got my butt back in the chair, although it’s not always a bad thing to let a piece of writing sit for a bit. I’ve found it often marinates into something richer than it might have been. I guess it could also grow mold, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this post.

My original piece was going to be a reflection on my summer sabbatical in California and the importance of place in my life. For some reason I stopped working on it in early November and well, somehow the daffodils are now in bloom. To be honest, I know the some reason was that the holiday season is a roller coaster of emotions for me (and a bazillion other people).

Me as soon as I see the first Lexus Christmas commercial.

A typical day for me during that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is not unlike a NC weather forecast – sunny skies early, thunderstorms in the afternoon, some containing hail and heavy winds, followed by partial clearing. In short, I’m all over the place – which is where this post originated – place.

When I returned from my summer (a civilized no humidity summer) in California, I began thinking a lot about Dorothy – yeah, that young girl from Kansas. Or was it Missouri? How was she so very certain that there’s no place like home? Maybe it was those ruby slippers that fortified her resolve. Me? I’m more of an Allbirds kind of girl and when I bump my rubber heels together, well, there’s no magic.

Don’t get me wrong – I was delighted to be back with my dear wife, but it hit me when my return flight approached PTI that my connection to North Carolina becomes more tenuous each time I leave this state. It was dark as we made our descent and I could see the lights of familiar places, but I didn’t feel much different than when I landed in Atlanta on my layover. I realized that Winston Salem is a destination for me, but it doesn’t feel like home. It never has.

Home is not always in plane view.

I envied those passengers I heard talking about how good it was to be home and I tried to remember when I last had that feeling. It made me sad that I really had to think about it. I suppose I would have to go back several years ago to when my parents were still alive.

The truth is that I’ve always felt like an accidental tourist in North Carolina. I moved here in 1995 when my partner at the time was recruited for a good job opportunity. I was a Virginian for the first 39 years of my life, and I had always thought of myself as a southerner – until I arrived in the Old North State. I’ll never forget my first trip to the post office and after a brief conversation with the clerk behind the counter, he looked at me a bit suspiciously and said, “You’re not from around here.” Not a question. I felt like I was in one of those old Westerns and waited for him to say, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” He wasn’t unfriendly, but his statement surprised me and before I could respond, he asked if was from up north. I said, “Yes. Northern Virginia.” He nodded slowly and told me he thought I was from New York City. That’s exactly how he said – true story.

My first trip to a NC post office. He didn’t make my day.

That memory is harmlessly amusing and oddly affirming to me today as I ponder the nuances of home. NC is never going to be home to me no matter how long I live here. And that’s okay, because I figured out this summer that for some of us, home is more abstract than an address. Most often for me, it’s a state of mind – and heart.

I talked to Kelly, my hairdresser/therapist/dear friend about this recently. She’s married and has two young children and moved to this area in her late teens. I asked her what popped into her head when she thinks of the word home. She took her time answering and said, “Home is the place I feel most filled.” I think I startled her when I responded, quite enthusiastically, “Yes, yes, that’s it.” I’m so lucky that my hair stylist completes me.

For some of us, home is not an address or a house. It’s a space where we feel in harmony with the world. Maybe it’s not even a space – it can be a sound or a smell. The Episcopal church I grew up in had a musty woody smell when you entered the front door. I left the church for several decades as an adult and when I made my way back to a small church in Greensboro on Easter Sunday in 2007, that same smell engulfed me like a hug. I was home.

The red door of just about any Episcopal church feels like home to me. This one is All Saint’s in Greensboro, NC. Watercolor by Mike Tiddy.

And I suppose that my church here in Winston Salem is one of the physical spaces that feels most like home to me these days. And that was certainly the case this holiday season. Church was a sanctuary for me in all manner of ways.

My mother died almost twenty years ago, but I’m still stopped in my tracks when I smell Chanel No. 5. That was her perfume. The morning after she died, I walked into her closet just to breathe in that scent still lingering on some of her clothing. I felt comforted. I was home.

Tastes can feel like home, too. My father always made oyster stew for breakfast on Christmas morning. Hey, don’t judge, I’m from Virginia and we didn’t have Moravian sugar cake. The first Christmas without him, I steeled myself over the stove to try and replicate his no-recipe recipe. It must have been divine intervention, because I came pretty darn close. I remember taking a deep breath before that first taste and there it was – that familiar briny tang.

I spent some time in Charlottesville over New Year’s – a place I lived for over a decade. Several times during my stay, my heart felt full – most especially when I shared time with my friend of over three decades, Chris. She and her husband Ed live on a farm in Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville. The farm has long been the backdrop for all sorts of celebrations – including a memorable 4th of July when we almost burned the front yard down. Our bad – Ed did warn us that the grass was too dry for sparklers.

Friends since the first Reagan administration. Hoping to live long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again.

Chris and Ed were both so dear to my parents – in life and death – and it is an abiding comfort to me to have such a rich history with them. Their house feels like home. And hugging Ed reminds me of being in my father’s arms – he’s a strong but kind man like my dad and he’s okay with me crying into his warm flannel shirt. And just like my dad, he is always so happy to see me. He greeted me this time with perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “Addy, you know we just sort of set our watches until the next time we see you.” I mean, who says that? Ed does. And then I cry.

Me after hugging Ed.

I often feel at home in nature and what a glorious gift that is. I’ve always enjoyed walking, but after the apocalypse of November 8, 2016, walking became a spiritual practice for me. Yes, it’s good exercise, but it also gets me away from the turmoil of our BREAKING NEWS world. There are just so many screaming words flying back and forth, and I for one would much rather hear the tweet of a bird over one from a president.

Budding blooms > Breaking news.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that for me, home will probably always be a moving target, a fleeting yet often visceral moment. On my best days, there are several moments when I feel at home and as Kelly said, I am filled in glorious ways.

Mary Oliver, the beloved goddess of poetry who passed away last year, exquisitely captures the feeling of home in the poem below. I read it at my best friend’s wedding several years ago outside on a warm day in May while her dog barked. It was perfect.

Coming Home

by Mary Oliver

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place–
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

I’m glad Dorothy made it back to Kansas, but I’m going to just keep trying to enjoy the ride home wherever it takes me. You see, for some of us, there’s no home like place.

Chris and Ed make my heart feel home.
When a familiar view feels like home. Holidays up on the farm.

Feets, don’t fail me now

wilderness

Can you hear the voice crying in the wilderness? Can you hear the crying?

I’ve heard those voices – my own loudest of all – a lot lately. I have been crying and wandering in the wilderness a great deal since November 8th.  And that’s how I found myself back in church this past Sunday. Sometimes our feet just take us where we need to be. I have no other reasonable explanation for why on a cold, rainy Sunday, I got myself up and dressed and in a pew and found myself listening to Prepare Ye, a calypso style anthem written by Marc Robinson.

Click here to hear it – it has a Lion King vibe and everyone was really feeling it and someone in the choir was even playing bongo drums. It sounded like hope to me and it was a balm to my battered soul.

Can you hear the voice crying in the wilderness? Can you hear the crying? 

dont-sit-in-my-pew

Don’t even think about it.

I’m attending a new church, one in the city where I live, instead of driving 40 minutes to my old church where I used to live. I had to get out of my own way to like this new church. For starters, it’s fairly modern and I’m pretty old school when it comes to churches. My new church is sort of like a ranch house. It’s rather dated with not much curb appeal – entirely different from my old church. The Property Brothers could do a lot with it.

Funny thing, though – on this Sunday, the simplicity of my new church seemed quite lovely to me. So my wife and I sat down in our row. We’re Episcopalian and every good Episcopalian sits in the same row no matter what church we’re in – it’s just a thing and I can’t explain it. Our new church has chairs – not pews – which bothered me at first because there’s no kneeling. Episcopalians are known for our Anglican aerobics featuring lots of up and down during our services. And there’s something about your energy when you’re kneeling that opens up your heart – a bit like some yoga poses.

aerobvics

Episcopalian workout.

Before I lose some of you who are rolling your eyes because I’m writing about church, let me say loud and clear that I know many of  you have been deeply hurt and damaged in the name of religion and I don’t discount those feelings at all. My own dear wife has endured much suffering within her evangelical family. It makes me crazy mad and terribly sad.

I know I have been blessed  to have always felt accepted and loved in the Episcopal Church and that is why I returned there after months of wandering. It feels like home to me and since my parents died 14 years ago, there is really no place I feel closer to them than in the confines of an Episcopal Church – fancy or plain. So there is where my feet often take me, particularly in times of despair.

twilight-zone

Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

We welcomed our new interim rector on this Sunday and he processed in with a cane. He’s in his mid-60’s and his hands were visibly trembling as he began the service and he apologized for his legs not working quite right on this morning. I assume he has Parkinson’s or some other neurological condition.

He sat on a stool when he delivered his sermon – a sermon that was surprisingly personal and political. He talked about finally pulling himself up out of bed on November 9th – after checking his iPhone at 3 and 4 and 5 to see if perhaps, an Electoral College Miracle had occurred as he slept. He talked about being able to finally see through his tears later in the day and thinking about where God was in all of this. The very question I asked with rage on that same awful day. I never got to an answer but he did. He said, “God is here with us, the real question is where are we in all of this.”

Sometimes you just have to ask the right questions.

He did not give us false hope – far from it. He said the coming days would be very difficult but that our charge is to “be the grace of God in the world”.  So much for a soft opening.

As he preached, with his trembling hands, the irony was not lost on me that #notmypresident might make fun of this dear man – as he so infamously did the disabled reporter.

And as I looked around the congregation, I realized that we had landed in a truly diverse community of faith. It could make a great holiday commercial for Coke – young, old, black, white, Indian, Asian, wheelchairs, walkers and gays – not necessarily in that order. And I could hardly suppress my glee when the developmentally disabled young man sitting directly behind us let forth some unbridled burps during the sermon. It was all so gloriously human.

And then came the Prayers of the People, one of my favorite parts of an Episcopal service. A lay person serves as an intercessor and leads the congregation in prayers for almost everything and everyone under the sun. There is a refrain that the leader repeats after each petition to God and it is usually different every Sunday. This one was a doozy: Give us grace to engage one another without hatred or bitterness and to work together with mutual respect.

Do you think that includes social media? Crap.

We prayed for the leaders of our church and the leaders of our country – Barrack, our President and Donald, our President-elect – that they make wise decisions for the well-being of our society.

It was at this moment that I wished I had stayed home in my pjs to watch CBS Sunday Morning.

prince-henry

Membership has its privileges.

Thank God, no pun intended, that the passing of The Peace was next because I really needed to hug my wife and shake lots of strangers’ hands after that. Full disclosure: There were audible groans when Donald’s name came up. This isn’t going to be easy.

We prayed for the Standing Rock water protectors and the people of Aleppo and the victims of the warehouse fire in Oakland.

I think we’re going to like it here.

And wouldn’t you know we ended up kneeling (finally) for communion right beside that developmentally disabled man who smiled beatifically at us.

I’m always amused when God is not subtle. It makes her seem all that more accessible.

Yes, God was there in that colorful flock of saints and sinners this past Sunday and I need to remember that as I continue to find my footing in this abnormal normal that we’ve been thrust into to.  Oh, don’t worry, I’ll keep kicking and screaming and ranting and raving but I’m so very weary from crying in the wilderness and it feels good to be with others.

Besides, this coming Sunday is the Christmas pageant. And you know how the gays love a pageant.

So for now, you know where to find me Sundays at 11 – third row from the back on the right hand side, aisle seat.

There’s no place like home.

 

peanuts

Always a good show and easier to get tickets to than Hamilton.

episcopal-church-2

I guess two out of three is not an option.