Finding Heart

by Maria Theresa Maggi on November 10, 2017

"Found Stone Heart in Charred Driftwood" pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Found Stone Heart in Charred Driftwood” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

More often than not, I am hard pressed to have my own imagination beat what happens in real life. This particular morning was an overcast drizzly one. The dogs and I hoofed it up a big hill and over to the community garden to dump kitchen compost and collect little leaves of kale and chard, and tiny broccoli florets that had accumulated in my raised bed—enough for a stir fry. After that we wound our way through the Gleneden Beach neighborhood to the mouth of School House Creek.

As we had started out that morning, I had hoped we would end up where Schoolhouse empties into the ocean. I acknowledged to myself that it is a kind of “sacred space” for me—many times in the spring we walked down to watch it run over the rocks, to see the reflection of the landscape on the part of it carving its way through the sand to the ocean. I had even brought a crystal that had once been a part of my “galaxy” shaped patio to dip it into the cold rushing water.

As these acknowledgments were flashing across the sand of my mental beach, a question arose. . .did the sacredness I felt there have historical roots of some kind? Did native peoples once gather there, to hunt or fish? It is a seasonal creek that mostly dries up in Summer and then Winter rains bring it back, sometimes in force. I have no idea where it got its name, or if, along it somewhere east, there was once a Schoolhouse built by white settlers next to it.

Then, of course, I promptly forgot these musings for the time being and focused on getting up the steep hill to the garden next to the firehouse.

When we did finally wend our way down to the mouth of Schoolhouse, the tide was definitely coming in. But there was still a large bowl of sand next to the stone bed of the creek to walk around in and take a look north and south, enjoy the elemental muted beauty of the morning and the overcast light. (We shared it with a flock of seagulls, so no running for Cotton, who was a good sport about it.) As we moved back to be clear of any sneaks from the oncoming tide, I turned to face this piece of burned out log that was completely black inside.

Often, it seems, people on the beach later than I am ever out, try to burn these huge remnants of still more huge trees that the ocean tosses up on the sand and then throws up and down the beach. Somehow it makes me sad, because it seems like they have already been through enough. This one was full of contrasts—its bark had been entirely scoured away, and the remaining layer was sectioned in raw oranges and umbers. The “inside” had been burned and was nearly completely black. The stump itself, though, sat upright, or someone had put it upright, and in the blackened alcove created there was a small flat space in which an object could rest. The object placed there was a stone shaped heart about the size of an adult human hand.

I gasped. of course, I know some human put it there, but It felt in that instant as if the spirit of the creek had thanked me for my reverent thoughts by showing me its heart, and had guided this whole experience far beyond both what the placer of the stone and I could have ever dreamed might happen. As I thought of the spirit of the creek that rushes over and under so many stones, the sun started to break through over a gray cloud and cast a milky bright light over us. I didn’t have my phone with me, so I came home and drew it from memory.

Like I said, I can’t make this stuff up. And I don’t have to. Here’s a William Stafford poem a friend posted this morning that I first saw on a power pole on North Ainsworth in Portland as Romeo and I were walking home from the grocery store. It explains more beautifully than I ever could what these experiences are like.

THE GREAT BLENDING

For intervals, then, throughout our lives
we savor a concurrence, the great blending
of our chance selves with what sustains
all chance. We ride the wave and are
the wave. And with renewed belief
inner and outer we find our talk
turned to prayer, our prayer into truth:
for an interval, early, we become at home in the world.

– William Stafford

I finished this drawing on November 7, the eve of the first anniversary of the 2016 election. On that day, I wrote, “in some sense I must have been drawing this memory of hope in a stark setting for the whole country, and for my own broken heart about the “state” of things. I cannot give up hope we can do better than this. I will not.”

The next evening, the “heartening”news on election 2017 night came through. Paper ballots in Virginia delivering upsets that will result in more compassionate and inclusive governing, including the first openly transgendered representative, beating out the guy who sponsored the “bathroom bill.” I really loved that kind of poetic justice. And the victory of a Liberian emigre turned citizen and now elected mayor in Helena Montana, becoming the first ever black mayor in that state, brought tears to my eyes. In very real and grass roots and genuine open-hearted ways, democracy seems to be finding its “heart.”

 

"Mother Mary Candle," mixed media drawing by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Mother Mary Candle,” mixed media drawing by Maria Theresa Maggi

On election morning a year ago, I posted a photo of a mother mary candle I had set to burning through election night, saying simply, ” This day calls for a Mother Mary candle.”

Spirits were high in my tribe on facebook that morning. I remember one of my friends commenting below the photograph of the candle “Mother Hillary!” (which honestly I thought was a bit much, but to each her own). Another male poet friend posted about meeting at the local pub, and musing that he just might, indeed, wear a pantsuit in honor of the occasion.

I wasn’t so sure. For some reason I couldn’t name, I had felt the absolute need to light that candle. Lighting Mother Mary candles had helped me through many gauntlets: the path to finding the right house and the right buyer, and often a way through seemingly insurmountable family troubles or worries. It is, for me,  a powerful way to give over the hand wringing to a constant little flame, small but mighty in its ability to purify clouded thoughts and feelings and bring on unconditional love and mercy .

So I guess, although I was worried, I must have also deeply hoped that lighting the Mother Mary candle would bring the result that would give me far less worry: Hillary Clinton in the White House. But, as we all know all too well, that didn’t happen.

In my lazy Susan of spirituality, Mother Mary ranks high on my list of devotions, right up there with Quan Yin and Buddha and Ganesh and Saint Francis, to name a few others. First of all, I am named after her. Second of all, there was much about Catholic school I absolutely hated and bucked against, but as a child, I did like the procession and the beautiful hymn we all sang in her honor. And even though I basically never go to church, I have always loved the rosary. As I’ve written about before, I’ve fashioned my own version of it from a very progressive creed that once was said at a Newman Center I attended until the bishop pulled the plug on it. I saved the paper and have edited it a bit to suit my version of universalism (which includes all of nature and good people of other faiths) and know it by heart. And my hail marys are a compilation of the contemplative prayer version, what is sung on a Sounds True Songs of Mary CD a friend gave me, and a change an old friend once made to the very end, which I find very moving:“pray for us pilgrims, now and in the hour of our need.” Or, as it ends on the CD, “pray for us pilgrims, inspire us, enlighten us, now and in all our days.” Sometimes I do lapse into the orthodox “pray for us sinners now and at the our of our death,” as well. It’s all good, in this maybe-to-some-sacrilegious-but-sincere spirit of ecumenism I follow.

As I wrote about in the post “Nap Time,” a young artistic neighbor back on Asbury Street gave me a rosary she had made from rose petal beads. She had asked me if I knew anyone who would like it and I thought of a friend who was a practicing Catholic, and though I wasn’t sure I would use it myself, I knew to say yes. I have used it each afternoon at my nap time until so many of the beads have disintegrated that there is only one full decade of ten left. But what IS left still smells like roses.

Never before in my life have I been mad at or felt betrayed by the spirit of Mother Mary or my prayers to her. So I didn’t quite no how to deal with the fact that the thought of her and me lighting that candle on election day made me set my lips in a grim line. I seemed to feel, as never before, abandoned, and unheard.

This isn’t like me. I don’t pray for results. I’m terrible at visualizing material gains or specific consequences with exact wording. It always has to be a form of “the best thing for the highest good” or, in other more old-fashioned words, “thy will be done.”

Nevertheless, the triumph of President Trump on election night 2016, put a cramp in my faith and also in mydaily rosary saying, I’ll admit, though I tried to carry on. It just didn’t feel the same. And sometimes still doesn’t. My heart sometimes just isn’t in it.

But the spirit of Mother Mary has been gently nudging me to see the bigger picture this past year, even though I’ve been too peevish to tune in to it all the way until just a few days ago. The nudging started late last Winter, when I moved to my new neighborhood by the ocean. The dogs and I would walk down a street of houses that face the ocean. One of those houses is a light blue octagon shaped affair, and in the yard was a statue of Mother Mary. I began to be aware that I was delighted to see this statue and would sometimes even say to the dogs, “let’s go by and say hi to Mother Mary.” I never saw anyone home during this time. I didn’t walk by every day or think about it much, but if we saw it, I would sometimes be drawn to walk by her. I would giggle and my heart would feel lighter.

Then one day I walked by and saw that some new landscaping had been put in and that Mother Mary wasn’t in her usual place. She had been relegated to the side of the driveway near the garbage can. I began to worry that they were going to throw her out, (although she’s a heavy cement statue and not something that could just be tossed in the can).  My gleaner aspect woke up from a long winter nap and sat at attention. (Historically, I am a great finder of free things on my walks, either human made or living, up to and including edible mushrooms, agates, clothes, hangers on branches of trees and garden pots and racks I’d drag back home.) I resolved that when or if I saw someone there, I’d ask if they were getting rid of her. I wanted to find a way to bring her to my yard.

One afternoon the garage was open and someone was puttering around. I worked up my nerve to ask about the statue. It turned out the man puttering around was someone the owners had hired to do some work. He said he thought they’d be happy to give it to me because they didn’t know quite what to do with it. It had belonged to the previous owner and just sort of came along with the house.

Another several weeks went by. Then one sunny Sunday Spring morning there were cars in the driveway. And a man getting out of one. It’s now or never, I thought, hoping I was in the mood to introduce myself as the eccentric lady with the beautiful dogs who wasn’t a religious fanatic but would really like that Mother Mary statue, thank you, if you’re not doing anything else important with it.

He was a nice man and said he and his wife would be happy to give it to me. He even offered to bring it over on a weekend they were here and had their truck with them. We tried exchanging numbers as people who don’t carry our cell phones around with us all the time.

I didn’t hear from him, so wondered if they changed their minds. But one Summer Sunday a truck pulled into my driveway and there they were. He had written my phone number down wrong but remembered the address. He and his wife lifted Mary and her cement alcove out of the truck (no small task) and set her in the southeast corner of my backyard.

One of her outstretched hands to all us poor humans asking for everything under the sun is broken off, but I don’t mind at all. I’ve gotten some seeds from another neighbor, and when Spring comes again I’ll plant some love-in-a-mist around her–blue and white and pretty, but tough as nails once they are established.(Fingers crossed the bunnies don’t mow it down first.)

For a long time I didn’t connect my finding the Mother May statue and giving her a new home to a way of softening my difficulties saying the rosary. But now I see that it engendered in me that feeling of compassion and softness I felt in some moments I might lose altogether in the wake of the election and what has followed. It helped me keep it going. Her spirit, like the spirit of the creek, helped me find my heart.

Now when I look back on that day last year when I lit that candle and said “This day calls for a Mother Mary candle,” I think I know what that really means. It means that no matter what tragedy or horror of human behavior I must find the bravery to face and fight, the “weapons” of calling out the truth, calling on compassion, and unconditional love will light the way through the dark and the clouds. I light the candle to keep that spirit going, which is especially important in times when our leaders do not demonstrate that example for us, and we have to constantly remind them what basic human rights are, or should be. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen as I have before, I hope it will light the way through those cracks so willing to let it in, and help us to a more compassionate world.

So, after all, Mother Mary, did, and still is, helping me find my heart. She never really stopped. And so is the spirit of Schoolhouse Creek. Quite literally. I don’t think Mother Mary would mind this association at all. She is quoted by children outside Sarajevo she evidently appeared to in the 1990s as saying that “it doesn’t matter what religion you are, as long as you’re nice about it.”

Indeed. I’m glad I lit that candle. There is still hope. And this year there are many many small and not so small victories that demonstrate it’s not too late for our country to realize its truthful potential to be “great,” through inclusivity and compassion for all people and respect for the earth. Each passing day, more and more of us find our hearts to help make it so.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

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A Few Words

by Maria Theresa Maggi on November 3, 2017

Cotton's Signature, pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Cotton’s Signature,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

For much of the last several weeks, the ocean had stolen the sand from the our beach access, leaving us only with rocks, practically right up to the bottom of our stairs. On calmer days at low tide, we could make our way over those rocks to sand farther north. Last Saturday morning, I was starting my yoga when I saw a neighbor whose dog and my dogs are “friends” walking by on her way back from her early morning walk. I couldn’t resist the urge to shout out hi at her, although my kids were asleep up in the loft. She turned to see where I was and when she saw me, she said, her face alight, “the sand is back!” All in one night the ocean has returned the loot it had stolen.

It was hard to explain what a dramatic change it was to my son and daughter-in-law, who had not seen it at all for the last two weeks, when it had been “rocky” and often impassable in both directions. The surf was HUGE, though, with mountains of foam halfway up the stairs. That morning, with the high tide and the big surf, it wouldn’t be a day to dance on the sand.

But by the middle of the week, with a nice low tide in the later afternoon, the dogs and I got treated to a huge expanse of flat, clean sand, just waiting to be romped on. Cotton, who had been romping in the grassy area behind our pool and clubhouse, was ecastatic to run. Even Romeo danced a jig and kicked up his heels. We had a lovely late afternoon time enjoying this expansive gift from the sea. We met other neighbors and a woman with her greyhounds also enjoying the easy walking conditions.

After climbing back up the stairs and preparing to head home, I turned to look at the sand again. Although we had seen others, there had not been many dogs, and I was delighted to see the “signature” of Cotton’s first happy romp around me still imprinted in the sand below, undisturbed by any other set of footprints, the marks softly backlit by the sun as it lowered itself toward the horizon.

On October 26 it was 5 years since I started writing this blog. On that day, I remember how amazing and delightful and over the top in a good way it was to get hundreds of comments on my very first post, “Setting The Table,” after Susan Voisin so generously announced that my blog was the newest member of her FatFreeVegan site, and encouraged her readers to come on over and check it out. I got such a warm welcome, and many great stories in those comments, too. Her generosity in this regard still literally warms my heart, even just to think back on it. On the day that I am writing this post, November 3,  5 years ago to the day  I posted a story called “The Blue Cornflower Effect,” about trusting myself that the healing I was experiencing from changing the way I eat was real. Now when I go to find the jpeg of my signature to “sign” a blog post, I scroll back down through many years and images of my food, my surroundings, and the art I’ve created to a time before Mike and Kelly got married and just after I got to meet Susan for the first time in person, and she asked me to write my signature down so she could make it into a jpeg for me to sign the blog with. All these delicious memories have brought brought me to this day, as I  think of all the wonderful readers who’ve followed me and cheered me on. I think of all the wonderful times in my old kitchen on Asbury Street and my other kitchens, too, and Van Buren (where I first made spelt bread). and then in Portland and here, at the ocean.

Much is the same. I’m still eating low fat and plant-based and it still helps me do things I never thought I would do again or ever. I’m still telling things from my own vantage point, never preaching, and always having a good time writing down my processes of discovery.

But some things have shifted. Like Dr. Barnard writes in Foods That Fight Pain, I, too, am a believer in the dynamic that says food intolerances can shift over time, in either direction. That has been the case for me. I have gone from being able to eat soy, to not being able to eat soy when I first started writing the blog, to being able to eat soy again. I have returned to gluten-free eating and baking to avoid the wheat starch I tend to be intolerant of. And then I discovered I could tolerate spelt, which brought me back to my love of bread baking, which goes all the way bak to my grandmother and her brothers,.

When I began the blog, I felt compelled to offer recipes, though Susan never said I had to. I do love to cook–or rather, I like to play with my food. The recipes I’ve shared always come from riffing on versions of other things I’ve seen or want to “play with.” I’ve never particularly liked photographing the food, and I’ve never really aspired to be a food blogger. I’ve always liked best the way a story, a drawing or food come together or get intertwined. So there may still be a recipe now and then, but mostly it’s stories these days.

So with Susan’s help, I’ve changed a few words. Now the subheading of the blog reads “Stories. Recipes. Hope.” It might also be appropriate to add “art” to that mix, since it’s become such an essential part of what I want to share here. There may be a more substantial “redo” on the horizon, for technical reasons, and when there is, that might be added to the subheading as well.

In the meantime, I feel so grateful. This blog space has been just like that vast stretch of clean beach, just waiting for foot and paw prints to record a happy romp on it. Here on the blog I get to play with how to share the truth of my life with you all. A long time ago I once said to friends that if there was nothing left to write or draw with I would pick up a stick and do so on the sand. So it seems an apt metaphor to celebrate my admission that, though it took me a long time to realize it, I have come to love telling the stories of my everyday life, sometimes in words and sometimes in images. The little sketch at the top of this post is a reminder to me of the delight I felt in seeing Cotton’s joy etched into the sand from above. And it reminds me how much living well I’ve enjoyed trying to represent and share with you here. With just a few words. And a few pictures too.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

{ 16 comments }

I Knew I Had To Go Deep

October 22, 2017

  One day last week on our drizzly walk to look at School House Creek emptying into the ocean at high tide, I thought a lot about the “me too” phenomenon prompted by the breaking stories of Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation. For some reason impressions from images of an ancient Egyptian city recently found […]

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On Resilience

October 8, 2017

    My love affair with the word “resilience” began with a little angel on a trampoline. Many years ago during my time in manual therapy, in addition to the main practicioner I saw, I sometimes would go to see her sister-in-law, who was a friend of mine, and was moving up the ranks in […]

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Woosh

September 23, 2017

This memory sketch is the view from above my neighborhood’s north beach access, late afternoon, Autumn Equinox. The actual equinox point was about 2 hours before we arrived, at about the same time the tide was at its highest point that day. The wild ocean of late has reclaimed a lot of the sand and […]

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. . .And Now I See. . . Part 2

September 12, 2017

  My Mom, a teacher, used to say that teachers had eyes in the back of their heads. If you’re a Mom, too, you might also have experienced what I used to call my “mom radar”–that moment where I would suddenly just “know,” without a phone call or any other five-senses cue, that it was […]

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. . .And Now I See. . .

August 23, 2017

The night before the eclipse, pockets of thick mist swirled under the street lamp as I ushered the dogs out to the yard for a final time. By the time we all piled onto the bed, it was raining softly. Once again, the coast had covered itself in mist and water, despite a forecast for […]

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Circling In The Invisible Grass

August 9, 2017

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the explanation of why dogs circle around before laying down, but my fascination with the enchanting instinct to tamp down invisible grass has stayed with me all of my life. It’s fair to say I’ve internalized that fascination at a very deep level. Most […]

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The Song Is Love

June 29, 2017

  I have a confession to make: I talk to myself. A lot. All the time. Every day. Even in public places, like the aisles of the grocery store (sometimes especially in the aisles of the grocery store). But according to this article about self talk, this may actually be a good thing. It seems […]

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Go Fish (The Slow Miracle of My Yoga Practice)

June 16, 2017

One of my favorite things about my yoga practice is the way it surprises me each morning during my time on the mat. I’ve written before about how that mat feels like a magic carpet ride at times, and the time I am about to tell you about is no exception. Yet instead of the […]

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