I’m sure anyone can easily analyze me to bits for it, but my message today is simple. I made a wreath and I hung it up on the front door to send the message to you, one and all. It’s a holiday message that I think is worth decorating for, regardless of which is your own particular holiday or what the specific date on which it falls.The medium for my message may be a little offbeat. Not everybody puts up a holiday wreath made under a hint of Steampunk influence, but that was my angle at the moment, mostly because I really like all the typical mad-scientist found-object quirky-mechanical fantasy junk that fills the Steampunk world. And I made a wreath because it was fun to do.And I did it all to say, in my own funny-yet-utterly-serious little way, that holidays of a great multitude of kinds please me. More than that, I wanted to say that I wish such sweet happiness to all of you who more properly ‘own’ these holidays. And today, what with the 25th of December being the biggest holiday I grew up knowing in my modest corner of the universe, I think it’s exactly the right time to wish all of you as much joy, contentment, hope and peace as you can possibly contain. Well, more–so there will be plenty to spill out onto all the others around you.
Does it really matter whether our differences make us varied members of the same family or citizens of separate countries entirely? At the bottom of it all, we remain genetically bound to each other as disparate parts of the same species. What we choose to do with and in response to that simple truth is what really defines us as individuals and as parts of the human family, not how different we are from one another.
Working for respect, kindness and peace toward and among all the people whose paths cross mine in life seem to me like perfectly viable ways to respond. That’s the choice I’m going with, and I hope that it will be seen as defining my true colors always.
Among the essentials for a happy life, I consider the above named items some of the most meaningful. But I am often, rightly, reminded that these are as much matters of attitude as anything. Much easier, both of them, to qualify than to quantify.
Abundance, as experienced and demonstrated by many people I’ve known and seen who would be considered below a desirable economic level, is seen as having enough to survive, and just a touch to bring a guest to the table as well. That this means the main family’s subsistence is so much the sparser while a guest is on hand means little, except that the gift is commensurately so much the more generous.
For those of us with more considerable resources, I think the same attitude is worth the attempt. I should think through the difference between my actual needs and my wants, live within my means, and delight in the ability to share what I have with others. I’m not always nearly as good at this as I’d like, but think it a practice worth pursuing and improving over a lifetime.
Gratitude needn’t be limited to feeling I’m in the center of abundance, anyway. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be thankful for any and every good thing in my existence, even when the tenor of the times is set in a sparer and more trying mode. This, too, is simply a survival tactic on my part, as giving in to my dark instincts at bad times has no logical outcome but that I’d lie down and die. By choosing to actively and attentively seek out and recognize whatever kernels there are of goodness and light, I take away my focus from what lessens me and give myself a chance of relief. Better, I may see the glint of otherwise forgotten abundance, and that always makes me more grateful.
Stars, sun, comets, moon and planets; rain and lightning, clouds and mist;
Birds and butterflies and rainbows; dragonflies by morning kissed:
What a sparkling declaration of the minutes passing by,
What a joy, this constellation of sweet treasures in the sky!
Though I hunger in the silence of shut-in days, sleeping, blind,
I keep constantly the radiance of these jewels in my mind,
Hoping, dreaming, moving, soaring–real, or the internal, eye
Loves the beauties so alluring of sweet treasures in the sky!
It’s your birthday. You look in the mirror and you can’t imagine who that strange person looking back at you could possibly be–your grandmother, maybe? The family and your friends are all busy and far away and there’s a ton of work to be done, so the party on your big day this year will probably be a cookie or two after dinner while you read the couple of chapters you can fit in before unceremoniously dropping off to sleep in the chair. In the hours between that morning mirror check and dinner, you wonder where all the time went and what could possibly lie ahead.
And then you wonder what your mother experiences on her birthday.
It is my mother’s birthday today, and I am far away from her and have a ton of work to do, so any party she has will be without me, as it often is anymore. And having had a cascade of health challenges in the last decade or so, she will likely wonder at the speed of the passing years and the uncertainty of those approaching.
But I hope that, somewhere in the midst of all that, she still finds cause for celebration. My own collection of birthdays is growing, as are those of my sisters and families, and for all of these we owe a certain debt of gratitude to Mom for having had the perfect mixture of innocent foolhardiness and courage that it takes to become a mother, not just biologically but with the dedication of throwing umpteen birthday parties for us, coaxing us through the many of those days when there wasn’t time or space for the party, and giving us the love and support it took to each take off on our own and have our full lives. Small as it may be, the birthday gift that I think my mother might like the best is that she created a whole slew of birthday opportunities for us her family and for many others whom she annexed to the bloodline over the years.
We are an exponentially widening universe of what-ifs and why-nots ourselves, each of us growing up, growing older and asking our own questions of the unexpected people we’ve become, and finding and building lives and loves that, in turn, reach out further than any one of us could possibly do alone. That seems to me to be the closest thing to a purpose for existence that silly creatures like humans can have. A pretty grand one, at that.
There are a lot of distinguishing features that we associate with Goodness, in the general sense of that construct. There are the usual ethical and even moral qualities we impute to a person or action or event in our humanist or religious ways: honesty, justice, kindness, compassion, hospitality, wisdom, patience and other such characteristics are almost universally recognized as positive and admirable. And while we can sometimes recognize these things in our fellow mortals, many of us find it easier to represent them in our minds’ eyes as some kind of super-beings that transcend human limitations, because it’s hard to imagine much of this happening or being sustainable in the hands or lives of mere people.
So we have our superheroes and our faeries, our special agents and goddesses, avatars and angels. But we’re still either too limited in our mental vocabularies or perhaps simply a little bit too insecure and egocentric to imagine or depict much that is Good without giving it a recognizable hint or ten of humanness. We make our gods in our own image, unable to picture them as truly different enough from ourselves to be genuinely Other and unique. We need to feel a concrete connection if we’re to make any sense of our own ideals.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, to my mind. How can I talk about the sweetness of a ripe pear with someone who has no sense of smell or taste? What it feels like to stand mid-stream in an icy creek with someone who has no legs or is a lifelong quadriplegic? How could I hope to discuss a complex topic with a deaf person from another country? We have to have some little commonalities, at least ones that we perceive as such, for us to have any kind of relationship, including the philosophical or emotional or spiritual.
So we, thankfully, have our Helpers, our unseen supporters and caretakers and watchers and guides, and we give them features that help us to understand and trust them. The other day when I was drawing I was thinking of a friend who, as I write this, is undergoing cancer treatment. Many friends and relatives and acquaintances have done so in times past, and many will yet again, and I think of them in their times of need and send, in my own way, my love and hope and concern, but most of them cannot use anything tangible that I have to offer. I think for cancer patients, my versions of angels would most certainly be beautifully smooth-headed creatures.
I am no surgeon, healer, scientist, caregiver or therapist of any sort. If you live close enough you might get some homemade chicken soup from me, or an armful of flowers from my home meadow, or a little note, but I have no cure to offer, have not even enough encouraging wisdom of my own to get you through the day better. What I do have is my own vision of what I would hope to have at my bedside or hovering around me as I tread any dangerous paths, a sort of gracious, singing, laughing and–when I need a modest and quiet companion who understands the sorrow of it all–gently embracing angel of mercy. And my particular versions of such beings work in force, and also make house calls, so I will gladly send regiments of them in all their shining, vaguely human, terribly purposeful Goodness to watch over all.
We are not alone in our finitude. All of nature conspires to whisper this solemn truth in our ears if we will only listen. Everything we know will one day die and dissipate like a summer morning’s mist. Why should we grieve our own mortality?If we love life, it’s only natural that we would regret to leave it, and yet……how much loveliness is in the fluttering-down exhalation of decay! Without that poignant and exquisite sigh, what would feed the roses of next year? I’m in no rush to die; I hope there’s plenty of time ahead for me to have a lively, fruitful life. But I think, too, that my last task is to renew, to bring my modest tenure here to a far more fruitful end, and to leave space and time and love and life to all the generations of our heirs. I’ve no children of my own, but my niece and my nephews, my students’ children, my friends’–and all of the people yet to come–shall, if I have my way, have their summers of long life, and have their roses, too.
I’m as much a sucker for a good bird-brained, glutinous, weepy love story as the next guy. But I only like that stuff in fiction, and only in small doses. It’s not enough for me that a love story should have a meet-cute first act and an upbeat dénouement–it’s the stretch between that ought to be uplifting and exciting. Yes, it’s a rather charming sounding concept, at least on paper perhaps, that love would be perfectly lifelong (a lot riding on how long the lives happen to be) and all-encompassing. Yet aside from the exceedingly rare few seemingly flawless pairs for whom there is no apparent need for a world outside of them at all, most of the best relationships I’ve seen or known happen because they comprise two actual individuals, with all of their own unique characteristics, their daily existence intertwining intimately without losing the color and clarity of those individual souls shaped by their distinct thoughts, actions, experiences and inspirations. A true partnership, with all the challenges of give-and-take, beats cloning any day.
That popular book-and-movie of my younger days, Erich Segal‘s ‘Love Story‘, may by now be better remembered for its tagline ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry‘ than for its actual story of an opposites-attract kind of couple barging and charming their way through thick and thin, plucky and witty and utterly devoted to each other [because of course his haughty family has disowned him for linking up with One of Them, not of Us], until she dies–but very prettily, mind you–of leukemia and her grieving spouse is reunited with his estranged father. The whole story I could take reasonably well, but that one phrase really stuck in my craw, negating all of the negotiations it took to get the fictional couple from their meeting to the bittersweet end of their partnership at her death. Never mind that Segal himself seems to have had a great marriage that defied the glossy sentimentality of such a thing, it always struck me as cheapening the very joy of learning each other’s ways and enriching each other by simply being flawed and odd yet willing to figure out how to fit the two brands of strangeness together well. If I interpret the slogan as regarding regrets rather than apologies, it’s less distasteful to me, though I still think if there’s no risk of hurt, there’s little chance of reward either. The ultimate hurt, in this case, being not death (the old inevitable, despite the dramatic awfulness of its being untimely and painful in this heroine’s case) but the possibility of the relationship failing or being destroyed.
I guess it boils down to this: if a so-called love is so flimsy and flighty it can’t withstand mistakes and the necessary if clumsy duct tape and chewing gum sort of repairs we make on it, how can it be worthy of the name love at all? I much prefer the sort where feathers do get ruffled occasionally but the draw of true companionship and care and hilarity and comfort and adventure all together makes it well worth smoothing them back down.More than anybody else I know, I have been lucky in love.
I have never suffered through ill-treatment, being dumped or neglected or abused or any of that terrible stuff. I was raised by kind, loving, enjoyable parents–who still seem to think I’m worth keeping around–and have three wonderful sisters who have also kept my coffers filled with affection and excellent companionship. I’ve had a raft of kind friends who have been constant in their warm and encouraging presence throughout my days. Even the teachers, co-workers, postal carriers and shopkeepers peopling my life’s paths have generally been of a goodly sort. Best of all, I am lucky to know just how lucky I have been. And am.
No, that’s not exactly right: the true pinnacle of all this is that I found a best friend I could love, and be loved by, in the truest sense, for the rest of my life. It’s his birthday today, and I can’t help but be reminded how wildly blessed and fortunate I am in having him as my partner and daily companion as well as my great love. Being the best of friends makes all of the rest of it possible, the love and joy and kindness and life challenges faced together. We are birds of a feather, my love and I, and I wish him a long and marvelous series of birthdays yet to come. And a deeply happy one today, to get the rest of them started.
Three sisters, three have I, each one a star
to light the night or day with brilliance new,
a spark these shining few, though rare, bring to
the darkest, deepest places where they are–
Fair Wisdom bears a gleaming cup, as thirst
for knowledge waits in ev’ry darkened realm
to sip the learning springing from her helm,
sweet Wisdom bringing in this treasure first–
The next is gracious Kindness, in whose charms
of sympathy and care is safety found
when she with gentle strength wraps all around,
encompassing the world within her arms–
The third with equal radiance inclines
to lighten hearts as much as sun can do;
Laughter‘s her name, and like the other two,
her sparkling wit enhances how she shines–
All three, my sisters light the corners of
Nothing particularly wrong with being a strange bird.
Strangeness may be my only truly notable characteristic. I may not be particularly memorable to most people, what with being a mere mortal and all. Superpowers, I’ve none. Standout knowledge or skill or charisma? Nope. But being just a teensy bit weird, yeah, I’m all over that.
So I like to make art sometimes that is as pointlessly silly and eccentrically absurd as I am. I just feel I’m in a larger company of fringe characters than ever. And that, after all, is very probably exactly where I belong. I kind of like it on my perch. From here, the view is quite quirky and therefore strangely appealing. Come on over if and when you like, all you other odd birds out there.
My friends, you are welcome to sit in my house,
admiring my other friends, family, spouse,
each one of us charming, delightful and sweet
as any convention of people you’ll meet,
as brainy and clever and heartwarming, too,
as anyone can be, and that includes you;
come in and enjoy the great company,
come in and be welcome, as welcome can be,
but please keep in mind, while you lounge in this spot: