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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

QUIET

QUIET

 


My favorite sound of all is this. Quiet.
 
To illustrate: I have owned my present vehicle for a year and four months and have yet to learn how to operate the complicated radio or use the sound system in any way. And I have used my RAV4 for two lengthy and several shorter road trips. One of the ways my daughter is very unlike me is that she almost always has something to listen to while she works, cooks, drives, takes a bath—pretty much for every activity.
 
It can be argued that we don't see with our ears, but I'm certain I see more and better in the quiet than when there is noise going on—whether it's the noise of conversation, music, or a sound book. This is in part because I'm a One Thing At A Time woman. I'm not able to focus well on more than one thing at once. And when I'm driving, I want to take deep note of the sights around me. It's one reason I drive the back roads instead of the interstates as often as I can.
 
When I drafted this piece, we were in the season of colors—crimson, gold, copper, rust, platinum, and still some greens to set off the richness of fall. Next to these are the red barns and the weathered, abandoned outbuildings, which I love even more than the brilliance. I am a woman drawn to the subtler themes. I relish lines as much as colors. Now the golden cornstalks have been razed and the fall plowing begun, so the colors are varied browns––beige, peat, some ochre. But the lines of the hills themselves and the traces left by the columbines and the plows are a work of art. All this I see so much more fully in the quiet.
 
There are different kinds of quiet. When I studied at the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, I spent more than three months in silence, a little over a month, each of three times. But the silence was not complete. Our voices were not to be used to communicate, but we chanted and sang, the teachers and school staff talked to each other and to us students to give us instructions and assign karma yoga. Music might be piped into the dining room during a meal sometimes. Silence in this context is what I would call spiritual practice, though I know my teacher, Swami Janankananda, might or might not identify it as spiritual. Many inner things can happen, transformation can happen, and personal demons may be confronted during that kind of silence. In certain meditations there is utter silence, so if there is a slight rustle of movement, the instructor will say (breaking the silence further), "No moving."
 
But quiet. Maybe it's not quite the same as silence. I want quiet when I'm writing, but I also welcome now and then the woodpecker's hammering, the blue jay's scold, the wind whipping by. But mostly quiet is what I need. A person at the other end of the house can be making no audible sound that reaches my end, and yet I feel the noise of another being, their energy in my space.
 
I feel for my writing friends who are surrounded by the noise of their ever-present children during quarantine. Because what quiet may mean most is peace. And, much as those small beings are cherished, their presence does not, most of the time, bring with it the peace of quiet.


 
The word quiet was brought to you by Jody Keisner, herself a writer and professor with children at home, all trying to survive and thrive during quarantine.

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HÓZHÓ

Representative Debra Haaland

HÓZHÓ
 

 

I whooped and whooped again––online and into the air, so my daughter asked, "What?"
 
"Deb Haaland is going to be nominated Secretary of the Interior!"
 
I had already decided this was the week for the word hózhó, but I had no idea what I would say. Until I read the news about Deb Haaland (Laguna).
 
Here is why I call her nomination hózhó. But first I have to tell you, which I usually save until the end of a WORDS FROM FRIENDS entry, that my Diné (Navajo) friend and former colleague, Kera Armstrong gave me this word. I felt utterly humbled and deeply moved that she would trust me to do any sort of justice to such a significant, core, Diné concept. Me, a bilagáana woman.
 
Hózhó encompasses "a complex wellness philosophy and belief system comprised of principles that guide one's thoughts, actions, behaviors, and speech," according to Michelle Kahn-John, a Diné nurse with a PhD, who has researched the value of traditional Navajo ceremony when integrated with western medical practices. Hózhó expresses such concepts as beauty, balance perfection, harmony, goodness, normality, success, wellbeing, and blessedness.
 
When things are amiss in the Diné world, the desire, the impulse, is to healing, to restoration of balance, to hózhó. Over the past four years, things in the US have been vastly amiss, until we have endured the worst of it in 2020. We have witnessed blatant disregard for life––in the form of encouragement of violent racial injustice and death at the hands of those entrusted to protect and at the hands of ordinary citizens, intentional destruction of the natural world, and so-called leaders turning their backs on death wrought by a raging pandemic. We have longed for hózhó.
 
My joy at the naming of Deb Haaland to head Interior comes with the belief that she is a healer, as much as a Navajo haataałi (singer and healer) is. As she has said, "The land is everything," and she has experience fighting the forces that are bent upon taking from the land whatever they want. She is a warrior woman determined to protect the Earth. Many of those lands are Native lands, and she is a fierce defender of Native rights. She will be an invaluable member of an administration committed to healing the devastation that has battered us. More than that, her appointment represents restorative justice, a righting of generational wrongs to Native people by the very department she will now head.
 
I feel so privileged to have cast a vote to bring Deb Haaland into the House of Representatives in 2018. I pray the Senate will do the right thing and confirm her––an indigenous woman in charge of America's land, water, and Native territories! Hózhónígó. Hózhónígó.
 

The word hózhó was brought to you by Kera Armstrong, who works on the frontline in the healthcare system at UNM Hospital, for which she deserves our intense gratitude. She remains an incredible source of hózhó to everyone she meets.

 

Comments are always appreciated! If you'd like to see YOUR WORD become a story, poem or reflection, send me one in the comments. Or send it privately, using the "Contact" tab. Or maybe you'd like to offer a guest post. Just let me know!

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DEATH

DEATH


 
The friend who gave me this word––death––did not exactly give it to me. Lydia wrote me that she had been wondering what I believed about death, and I decided to try to respond by taking on the word. Try is the operative word, because what can I possibly say about something so literally life-altering for the one who dies and the ones who are left? In any space and especially in so small a space as this.
 
The most basic truth is that death is a mystery, no matter how often or how close we get to it. What do we really know for sure? I knew death when my little sister died when I was thirteen. I faced death when I tried to end my own life. I have had close friends die under various circumstances. I have worked in hospice and prepared the bodies of the dead, and still, it is a mystery, just as love is a mystery.
 
My friend, at the end of her query offered a Spanish saying, "Se acabaron, y solo la tristeza les da vida," which roughly translates, "They have finished, and only sorrow gives them life." I happen to know that Lydia has been deeply affected recently by the deaths of dear loved ones. This saying suggests to me that she is pondering less about death itself and more about what happens after death.
 
Almost thirty years ago one of my closest friends died of AIDS-related complications. At one time ours was the sort of friendship that caused us to double up in helpless laughter as we walked the streets of San Francisco. At other times we shared some of the deepest spiritual conversations. We thought it would always be that way. Then our relationship underwent some cuts and abrasions that we'd been unable or unwilling to heal. This went on for a few years prior to his death, as we ended all communication. Kevin, a mutual friend, arranged for us to have a phone conversation between a coastal California town and Glen's deathbed in New Zealand. A few hours before we were to talk, Kevin called to tell me Glen had died. I couldn't stop crying, as Kevin simply listened. I was mourning my loss, Glen's loss, and the world's loss, but I was also mourning the missed opportunity to make things right between us.
 
What happened afterwards, though, touches on that profound Spanish saying. I felt Glen's presence with me and around me so strongly for the next three days, and during that time, it seemed that everything sharp and painful between us was healed. I don't recall if I spoke any words to him like, "I'm sorry." I think of it now as a wordless time of healing, and I was intensely grateful to Glen for staying on this plane, so we could make things round.
 
I tell this story to say that I do think that there is life after death. I believe that I experienced a little piece of what Glen's life was after his death. I have also, in my attempts to better understand death, read many people's accounts of their life-after-death experiences. First I read Life After Life by Raymond A. Moody. More recently I read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's On Life After Death, recounting her experiences as a physician attending children with terminal illnesses. These books and the stories in them have bolstered my belief that death is not the end of life but a transition to something else––something we have an inkling of, but that is mostly a mystery. This belief is what drew me to ask Wayne Dale Matthysse if I could repost his mini-essay that I called "Form." And it was that essay that inspired my friend Lydia to ask her question about what I believed. It's this belief that draws me to the expression, "She walked on," the way many of my Native friends describe the death of someone loved and respected. They walked on to their next life experience.
 
I'm not sure it's our sorrow that keeps our loved ones alive after they've died. Perhaps it's joy, which is not to be confused with happiness. Joy is made up of contrastive elements––happiness, yes. But also sorrow, thrill, fullness, emptiness, pain, delight. Joy is the stuff of all the parts of Life, so why should it not be joy that keeps our loved ones alive? I once read this quote from an anonymous source at the funeral of my very good neighbor: "Joy is the elixir of life. Joy is what enables us to remember all our dead loves with a smile for what they gave us rather than only the agony of losing them."
 

The word death was brought to you by Lydia Lopez, painter and writer, Cheyenne's third grade teacher, and my former colleague.

 

For more thoughts on life after death, you may enjoy my allegory of judgment and the unexpected in the afterlife, "Surprised by Paradise ,"published in [Spaces]

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MIST

Photo: Therese Krzywinski

MIST

 

 
The double decker bus waits on the dock where the hydrofoils used to depart Copenhagen for Malmö. It's summertime in the far North.
 
I dreamed of visiting England ever since I fell in love with Brit Lit in high school. Later the mist surrounding the myth of King Arthur, his magical advisor Merlin, and Morgaine of the Fairies drew me even more powerfully. On this trip, I plan to visit the places attached to the myth—Avalon, Glastonbury, Tintagel, and the great stone circle at Avebury. Tingling with excitement, I climb to the top deck where my seat will fold into a bed at night.
 
I will arrive in London the following afternoon, sleep that night in a Piccadilly hotel, expecting to take a train west toward Glastonbury the next morning. Only I can't. Upon checking in at my hotel, I learn that no buses or trains will be running the next day, due to a countrywide rail strike. There is little to do but book another night in Piccadilly and spend the strike day in London. Determined to make this an Arthurian trip, I walk to the British Museum and choose the Celtic and Roman exhibits from a time shrouded in mist—Arthur's time. I imagine Morgaine weaving her magic into the ancient, woad-dyed fabrics. I see Merlin wearing the golden torc that now lies behind glass. My mind transforms an age-old sword into to the legendary Excalibur.
 
The strike cuts a day off of my time in England, and I know I won't be able to make it to Tintagel––Arthur's legendary birthplace with all the mystery surrounding his conception. That evening TV news regales me with another disappointment. More than 100,000 people will be descending on Glastonbury for its world-famous music festival. This does not sound like the meditative experience I've been imagining. First the strike, now the concert. Perhaps for the first time, I embrace the notion that obstacles signify entrance into a sacred journey, every hurdle turning my tour into a pilgrimage. Despite the discouraging news of the festival, I board a train for Bath the next morning, uncertain what lies ahead but still resolute. In Bath I go to a travel board and book a room in a family home––a precursor to airbnb––in the town of Bradford on Avon. The house turns out to be a hefty walk from the town center. The family provides a hearty English breakfast but no other meals, so after settling, I walk back into town for a pub supper, taking my food to a picnic table overlooking the Avon.
 
I am still ruminating about how I will deal with the anticipated crowds in Glastonbury, a town that many traditions have regarded as a holy place. I notice a sign for a hermitage that served as a hostel for Glastonbury pilgrims in Medieval days. I decide to walk the upward winding trail to see the small limestone chapel. The building is closed, and at first I view this as another obstacle. It turns out to tender an opening.
 
An intimate garden, filled with summer blossoms, surrounds the chapel, and I find a seat on a bench there. I close my eyes and begin to meditate. Almost immediately an often-repeated scene from The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley's feminist telling of the Arthur myth, comes to me. In this version it is Morgaine, not Arthur, who is the central character.  Raised to be a priestess to the Goddess on the sacred isle of Avalon, it is her power I will channel, though I don't think of what transpires in precisely that way.
 
Impossibly, yet utterly real, Avalon co-exists with Glastonbury in Bradley's story. Avalon is veiled and protected from the outer world and the uninitiated by impenetrable mists. These worlds––one devoted to the primacy of Nature and the Goddess who sustains it, the other to the recently arrived Christian God––will eventually not be able to continue to exist on the same island, despite the continued assertion by Merlin and the bishops that there is only one God, regardless of name, belief, and practice.
 
The image that comes to me in meditation is of Morgaine entering the Avalon boat, standing upright in the prow, raising her arms and speaking the words of power that raise the mists, taking her away from Glastonbury and onto the sacred isle. In my meditation, I see that, as Morgaine raised the mists in times past, with my holy purpose, I can lower the mists and shut out the clamor of the festival crowd.
 
In the morning I leave for Glastonbury. And indeed, I have lowered the mists between the festival and the places I've wanted to experience––the Holy Well, the Tor, and Glastonbury Abbey. In point of fact, unbeknownst to me, the Glastonbury Music Festival has always been located ten miles outside the town––the mists drawn down.

 

It is in the ruins of the Abbey that I am blessed with a deep spiritual experience. I sit on the low remains of a stone wall, surrounded by open arches that once were windows within the broken lines of the sanctuary. Sunlight gleams on the grassy floor. And I have the sudden, overpowering sense that I have been here before, long, long ago, in another life. Spirit in this place far transcends the religions that competed in Morgaine's time.
 
The word mist was brought to you by Therese Krzywinski, who lives in Bergen, Norway, where mist is a common feature among the city's seven mountains and the sea.


 
Comments are always appreciated! If you'd like to see YOUR WORD become a story, poem or reflection, send me one in the comments. Or send it privately, using the "Contact" tab. Or maybe you'd like to offer a guest post. Just let me know!
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