A Little Night Magic

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 8, 2017

"Christmas Tree Throumough Two Windows," pastel memory sketch by MTM

“Christmas Tree Through Two Windows,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

 

My parents were sticklers for honoring the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, which hardly anyone seems to recognize anymore. The traditional 12 days of Christmas  are bookended by Christmas Eve,  the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In between are days that have both pagan and Christian significance. In even earlier times the “party” may have begun on Winter Solstice. Christmas Day, the “first” day,  is the day the sun begins to appear to move forward again in the sky after seeming to “stand still”–which is what “Solstice” means, and thus was a convenient day for the church to pick as the day to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. At any rate, growing up in a Catholic household, we observed the season of Advent, even to the extent that my Dad would playfully put up purple “Advent lights” around the outside of the house, getting up on the ladder to change them to the multi-colored Christmas lights only as it grew dark on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve also started two weeks of vacation for him–he always said it was to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. He did all his shopping on that day. He’d grow a beard and enjoy Italian Christmas treats by the fire, savor the salted almonds and roasted chestnuts, and in general enjoy letting the year wind down.

Thus, the anticipation for the season unfolding in traditional time was high at our house. My parents would say people who put their trees up early were rushing things. We never got our tree until about a week before Christmas, because it had to last until January 6th. Ours was probably up longer than anyone else’s on the block.

Nowadays, the Christmas season truly does begin the day after Thanksgiving, and seem to end the day after Christmas (which in the traditional 12 days of Christmas is Boxing Day). The 12 days of Christmas are rarely observed or even remembered, except in the Christmas song. Nevertheless, I can’t help put feel a kind of old-fashioned holiday jet lag, if you will, when my friends or neighbors tell me about baking they’re doing, or that suddenly it’s time for a Christmas party and it’s only the first week of December. I just can’t seem to “catch up.”

The bright side of the big hurry, though, is that if I want to see Christmas lights, I have from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas. The sight of twinkling lights can soothe the way I often miss my parents at this time of year, and how they came together and made everything special for each other, my sister and I, and many people in our community.

Nevertheless, I actually love it when something comes along to upend my somewhat pompous and definitely outdated attitude about timing the Christmas season. And that’s exactly what happened this year.

The first time I met my new across-the-street neighbor, I happened to be leaving the house with the dogs for a late afternoon walk. I saw that she had just driven up and was standing outside looking up at what was her brand new house. The way she was looking at it reminded me of my own gazing at mine, and I felt compelled to go over and congratulate her. She had just signed the papers.

She teaches at a university in Washington and so is not here full time, but each time she is I am happy she is around. I was delighted when she mentioned in one of our conversations that she collects Mother Mary statues. I have yet to show her the one in my garden, but that’s something I look forward to.

In one of our brief conversations, my new neighbor told me she would be having friends and family visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. When Thanksgiving arrived, my kids were here, and my neighbor’s guests had arrived, too, so she and I didn’t do much but wave at each other from across the street. I noticed on the day after Thanksgiving that someone with a child was there. Later in the day I happened to notice a Christmas tree going in and at first my heart sank reflexively a little about how early it is to be doing that, but then I “caught up” and remembered the day after Thanksgiving is now the official start of the Christmas season.

I didn’t think much more about it; in fact I completely forgot. The rest of my day was filled with outings with my son and daughter-in-law before they left to go back to Portland. But in the evening as I closed the blinds in my living room, I saw the lights were on the tree, and I had the thought that it must be nice to do that for the child who is visiting.

Later on in the middle of the night, I got up to use the bathroom. I close the blinds on one half of my bedroom window to block out the porch light (that hopefully discourages the racoons and the bears), but I keep the other half open to be able to see the night sky, at least a little: it always helps me sleep just knowing it is there for me to look at any time I want.

As I came through the door from the bathroom, I gasped. It was the middle of the night, and the street light shone on the house across the street. The window where I had seen the tree being put up was not shuttered, and the lights on the tree were still on. It was magical. It had the air of Christmas night itself, the kind I have loved so long ago, or the times I have made a yule log on Solstice and left it to burn the night through. Suddenly I envisioned what a special thing this was for the visiting child; perhaps the tree had been left on all night for him or her–perhaps he or she was snuggled in on a couch in the living room next to it, where it could twinkle through dreams the whole night through.

I don’t know who this child is: I only saw him or her once, making herself dead weight against a parent’s urging. I had happened to look out the window as the mother bent over the child and spoke to it in tones that evidently helped her or him decide to get up and go in. Perhaps the tree was a reward for the child, or for everyone. Perhaps this was the only time they could do it all together during the season.

The sight of this tree through my window and my neighbor’s window in the middle of the night certainly enraptured the child in me, who loves a lighted Christmas tree twinkling through the night, the best of all night lights. In fact, I loved lighted Christmas trees so much as a kid that one April morning I tried as hard as I could to conjure one into the living room simply by visualizing it as I made my slow way down the hall. I was sorely disappointed when my powers of concentration did not produce the hoped-for lighted tree.

In these times, when it can be so hard to find, we all need to make our magic when we can. My neighbor and her visitors had done that, and that magic spilled out into the night and “stirred up my heart,” as the Advent Prayer my father used to read to us began. I wanted to remember how it surprised and delighted me, so I did my best to draw it from memory.

I hope the holiday season “stirs up your hearts,” and brings you each your own magical surprises, perhaps at moments when they are least expected. That makes them all the brighter.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

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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)

 

 

 

{ 12 comments }

A Few Words

November 3, 2017

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 […]

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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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