Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fallen and New

Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.

Mark 13:28

I remember when the fig tree leaves budded and bloomed, just before summer, just as spring got full underway, as the heat turned up as if some unseen hand had turned the knob on the oven, and the sun blared harder on our little yard, blooming and supporting all manner of flowers and leaves. It seemed like it would be forever before we could sink our teeth into succulent figs--and it wasn't until July, for Isabella's birthday, that we could gather a small bowl of them for family to try. Otherwise we'd gather them a few at a time, just enough to taste, to pair with some Portuguese cheese my Mom had just sent, or with a cookie or some cake, in the Victorian tradition of tea cake loveliness.

That fruit was so astounding to me--its growth, nourishing small birds who passed through our yard. I know how it grows, but there it was, in my back yard, along with gorgeous hydrangea the most otherworldly purple, and gardenias so fragrant, and greenery with that smell of summer, that velvety brightness unlike the velvety smell of death in Autumn, as the leaves flutter or fall in droves and become crushed underfoot, bringing not doom but an altogether different smell, one of old library books and school days and the musky oldness of life.

When I look out my back window as I wash dishes, and see the fallen and withering fig leaves, I can't help but think about it in a couple of ways: the negative sensation of aging and changing, and the positive, lovely sense of this promise of another Spring. In the leaves I see myself, lately, moving forward in time, aging, wrinkling, becoming broken in body and soul with each new day giving way to possibility, in spite of the miles on this vehicle that's my body. I'll turn 40 in January, and in turns I fret and rejoice in this. I'm not vain--it's not about white hair and wrinkles and sagging and busted knees, but it's about these things, too. It's about being unable to do what I once could do, and it's about being able to do what I could never do as a youth at the same time. It's paradox, these leaves fallen under the surprising fig tree we did not know we truly had until it began to bloom, and it's that way with me, when I realize something about myself I did not know--something I did not think I was capable of (for the good and bad of it). I have to pause as I do at the back window of my life, this segue into the next season, this momentary pause and taking account of things which belong to the spirit.

Part of my faith journey has become this recognition that my soul does not wither, or wrinkle, or sag. It's intangible, frustratingly so, but the hope such a realization brings me manifests itself gently-- lovingly I will treat this weathered shell, my ticket to exploring the joys of this world, of which there are many, in spite of what Max Ehrmann calls the sham and drudgery of our human strivings. I will pick the fruit of my life, however small the yield, as I go along, and enjoy the momentary pleasure of it, knowing ephemeral as it is how important that moment of recognition must be. That taste of my soul will keep me hungry for the best yet to come. If only I could concentrate the flavor, taste it in times of despair, perhaps that would help my limited sense of self.

But then, I guess I would not see the sharp contrast life throws our way sometimes, by giving us the pains and sorrows necessary to see the joys in graphic relief.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eyes of the Soul

On the way to work, I look in the rearview mirror and see the bright, beautifully shaped eyes my daughter inherited, the smile in them (or frown, or grimace), the shine of wisdom, glitter from the morning sun, from my little Sophia.

Then, I get on the bus to go into campus and, some mornings, will catch that same eye and smile in the gorgeous diversity of people. Eyes made to shimmer in the sunlight--blue, brown, hazel, of all shapes and origins. Eyes which have seen both beauty and war, have seen their own share. In some eyes I see this more than others--more awareness.

I wonder at the souls on that bus, where they go when they step off into their day. We share that--the day, its newness, its possibility. Each day is that way--its blessing inherent to our momentary choices, to chance encounters.

What will become of us today? Where can we become everyday saints?

I try to be as hopeful as I can be in my writing--I figure there’s enough negative out there for seconds and thirds at the pity party--but life’s reality does come in sorrow, suffering, loneliness, depression. There’s homelessness in the midst of a storm, cancer in the body of a teacher or parent, loss in the most (seemingly) unlikely or unworthy places. That is, if you think of life in terms of meritocracy.

Every day, with those chances we get, we earn different kinds of things. We make our livings, complete our projects, bring our children to and from school, pay our dues in various ways. Our bodies can fail us but our souls trudge onward, reaching for sublime inspiration.

In matters of the heart and soul, we’re growing, not earning. We’re coming to see and believe--or believe even without seeing. For me that’s a matter of deep faith in God who made me and sustains me each and every day, speaks to me through others, their words and works and lives.

I falter and doubt, am absolutely imperfect in my practice, but I cannot let go for trying, in the everyday, to see in the eyes of others, to see with the eyes of my soul, the goodness of Creation.