The East Coast Diaries, Part I

It happens this way …

The second trip of 2019 took us to New Jersey and Philadelphia. We spent June 28-June 30 at the Mt. St. Mary House of Prayer, a lovely retreat center run by my dear Sisters of Mercy.

On Friday, I shared the lectern for a poetry reading with my long-time friend and teacher, Sister Maria Cordis. We read to an appreciative group in the beautiful chapel at McAuley Hall, the Sisters’ nursing home.

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On Saturday, I presented a poetry workshop to a group of former students, sister/friends, and area folks who love poetry. As always, these students taught me a few things about poetry – even my own — that I hadn’t thought of before. That’s the mystery of art: it keeps unfolding even after the artist thinks a piece is done.

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Sister Linda, Me, Sisters Rosemary, Carole, and Mary Jo cracking up on the front porch. I’ve known Linda since 2nd grade and the other beautiful women since I was 18. Lots of history together!

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My former students from Mt. St. Mary Academy: Diane Celentano Leahy (’72), Ampy Pikarsky (’72), Mary Lou DiDia (’72), and Eileen Burke (’75). What astute students — still!

On Sunday, June 30, I met my mom and brothers at the Washington Crossing Inn for a reunion brunch. We hadn’t been all together since 2005. John will retire next year from teaching Social Studies at Marist High School in Atlanta at age 70. Gerry is a lawyer who is the go-to-guy who lives near mom and is on-call when she needs help. But, at age 95, her motto is “I’ll do it my way” and she figures a lot of things out for herself.

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Me, Gerry, Mom, John

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A thought about the first leg of this trip: You can go home again if you remember to be the new and improved self you’ve become after you left. I’m pondering that.

 

 

Thinking it forward

It happens this way …

You’ve heard of that lovely concept of paying it forward? This week I discovered it’s mate: thinking it forward. I’ve been listening to You-Tube clips of one of my favorites: the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. In an interview with Bill Moyer,  she explains that after her second husband admitted to an affair and asked for a divorce, she was thrown into a tailspin of anger, and then terror at the depth of violence of her anger.  She explains to Bill how she finally dispelled her darkness, but the punch line for me was her embrace of the thought forward of becoming a Buddhist. When nothing else worked — no therapy, no dabbling in other spiritual disciplines, none of the typical escape routes –  she was seized by the passion to learn how to use the energy of her life  — even the negative energy of her painful experience — to wake up.

Wake up to what? How our minds — often closed and afraid — effect not only ourselves but the world; how, if we could open and soften our hearts, we could move toward de-escalating violence and aggression and escalate loving- kindness. That passionate thought moved her forward into a life-long quest of learning how to open and soften and into sharing what’s she’s learned with millions of people.

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Pema Chödrön

Call it what you will – grace, inspiration, the thought forward – but how many times have we heard an urgent voice within nudging us to do something, but we mute it because it would take us out of our comfort zone? Pema talks a lot about living with uncertainty, groundlessness, ambiguity, and insecurity both as individuals and as a society. It’s the fear of these realities of life on this planet that freezes us in our tracks and stops us from doing good things for ourselves and others.

I was talking to a friend at a poetry reading recently who has resolved to invest more time connecting with people she loves and admires. She had a dear friend from her past who lived in North Carolina, and she often thought about contacting her. Before she took action, however, the friend died. Now her thought forward is not to miss other opportunities to spend time with those who can enrich her life as well as those she will enrich.

Personally, I’ve been blissfully living in a cave for the last few years – enjoying my solitude, shaping days to fit my rhythms, dabbling in all kinds of creative activities – by myself. However, a thought forward has been nagging at me lately and I’ve actually begun to take some risks to act on it.

I’ve known for decades that my essence contains being a teacher. For the first time in 35 years, I taught a poetry class in 2017 for the Writers’ Mill, a group of prose writers and poets who meet monthly at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland.

On April 28 I’ll be presenting my fourth program to them and have subsequently risked contacting Happy Valley Library to set up some classes nearer home. In June, I’ll return to Watchung, New Jersey to do a fund-raising poetry workshop for my dear Sisters of Mercy on the 29th. In the audience will be students I taught at Mt. St. Mary Academy back in the ‘70s. Coming full circle seems so right. Listening to that thought forward has become a passion. I am a teacher and it’s time to embrace – and act – on that.

Think about all the thoughts forward that have been nudging you: the book you keep saying you want to publish, the trip you want to take, the people you’ve thought about recently and need to contact, the classes you’d love to sign up for. Whatever. What’s holding you back? If it’s lack of confidence or uncertainty, that’s fine. Acknowledge it and move forward anyway. Learning to break the bonds of fear is part of a life-long process that will wake you up to the essence of who you really are. Undoubtedly, it will pay itself forward in ways you can’t begin to imagine – yet.