Reflections on a Life

Reflections on a Life

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Rose

There is a lovely Christmas song....  that anyone who ever sang in a school or church choir probably had the great privilege to learn.  The notes float out and around you and if you are lucky enough, you sing in some wonderful venue where the notes resonate around the room and back, singing, ringing, floating in a kind of Christmas music magic.  The last time I sang this, it was with my precious children for a Christmas Eve service.

My memories are many - and sweet - of singing with my children.  From the first days of their lives, holding them gently in front of me, looking into those eyes that were so recently bound to me physically... inside of me, and now were a separate, breathing, heart-beating entity magically and lovingly created.  I sang 'Ash Grove' and 'Summertime' and 'It Had to Be You'....... and continued to sing them every night putting them to bed after lights were out.

There were long car trips home to see grandmothers - 'journeys of misery' as my drama-queen daughter dubbed them - where we played the 'Matching Game' and sang at the top of our lungs along with the songs, repeated time after time until we were ready to move on, starting with all things Raffi and Hans Christian Andersen - 'Down By the Bay' and 'The Ugly Duckling' will always be songs with a story in our house - and eventually on to the Broadway musicals that inspired my talented babies eventually to recreate on the stage (Godspell and Les Mis to name a few).

I remember the first Christmas Eve service that my children stood with me in a darkened sanctuary and sang 'The Friendly Beasts'.  That first Christmas Eve was the beginning of many family performances, eventually leading up to us singing together as a complete family - Tom included.  Tom will say that these are among his favorite memories.

And there were the nights sitting in a darkened theater waiting to hear those grown babies singing from the stage while I sat, breath held, in the audience. And, yes, crying.  For joy.  For the memories.  For love.

Babies.  There is such magic and such power and such overwhelming and profound love that goes with that word.  So much so that just trying to write this, the tears are streaming down my face.

And this time of year, I think of the baby that this whole season was created to celebrate.  The Christmas Rose.  My relationship to this baby is simple.  I call myself a "Christmas Christian" because it is the life that this baby went on to lead that thrills and inspires me.  I don't need or care whether he was the result of a miracle any greater than the pure miracle of conceiving and bearing a child into this world.  I don't need a 'virgin birth'.... but I love the story and the tradition and the life that was the reason the story was ever told to begin with.

And I think of the mother, young and frightened, huge with a child that I know she wondered about.  I'm referring to true 'wonder'... filled with awe at the absolute miracle of being able to help create and grow inside of her a human life until it was able to take its first breath independent of her body.

All mothers feel this way, don't they?

And then the miracle of delivering that child into the world and getting him through his first year, alive and well and walking.  And then helping him learn to 'be' in this world on his own, year after year, kissing boo-boos and rocking to peaceful sleep and cheering him on as he continued to grow and separate more and more from where he first started.... deep inside of her, connected and part of.

And I remember standing in front of The Pieta in St. John's Basilica in Rome with my husband and the father of my babies, and weeping with him, at the sheer power and beauty of a mother's agony and love, holding her precious child in her arms.  I was looking at a marble sculpture, but could literally feel the searing pain of that mother, holding her grown baby in her arms after his life had been extinguished.

At that moment I wanted to rattle the rafters of every public/political building in the world and throughout history that had ever entertained the discussion of war and death.  I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that babies were never made to slaughter.  Only to love.  We make our babies to live and thrive and love and continue on in the world, not to march into war and die.  Mothers would never declare war.

Would they?

Tom and I had been to Florence and saw so many of the Christian paintings of pain and torment and death.  We wondered how anyone who had not been steeped in the stories of Christmas and a loving Christ wouldn't be frightened away by these images of sorrow and fear.

But this one sculpture, this Pieta..... this one silent declaration of love and loss and love eternal..... this could change the heart of anyone.

No, I don't need a virgin birth.  And I don't require someone else dying for my sins.  I believe we were all made in the image of God and will - all of us - return to that light and love, regardless of choices made or beliefs or lack thereof.  I do pray for peace and compassion and enlightenment and awakening.  And I pray that everyone who wants to hold a baby in their arms - and to sing to - would have that chance.  And to see it grow strong, healthy and happy into a world of peace and purpose. 

Because that, to me, is the Christmas miracle.  That we can experience a Christmas Rose of our own.

Merry Christmas.  Blessings and love.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Trees captivate me.

Some of my earliest memories are of trees.  I remember lying in the grass and watching the sunlight playing through leaves and just....wondering... about being alive and breathing and being in love with that perfect moment of stillness and beauty. (We are so wise as children and then, for some reason, we lose it.)

My brother Paul and I used to scout through the woods looking for treasure and adventure and one day discovered a magnificent beech tree.  This particular tree was like a ladder to the clouds and we knew we had discovered something incredible.

The first thing we did was climb that behemoth!  The branches were close enough to the ground that small people could easily reach and swing skinny legs up and over and then it was just a hand-over-hand climb up, up, up.  The trick was to keep climbing and always concentrate on the next hand and foot hold... and never, ever look down.  I know this because the once that I did look down, I was frozen in place.  My precious brother and best friend had to help me down, one branch at a time, until I was close enough to earth that I felt safe.  Lesson learned?  Keep looking up.

We immediately ran home and reported our find to our mother who promptly agreed to be shown this monster tree.  She put aside the work she was doing and followed her excited and happy children back into the woods to check out their discovery.  Mama had exactly the same reaction to that tree as we did.  She started climbing.  It is a wonderful thing to discover for a child that you have a mother willing to drop her work, follow you into the woods and then climb an enormous tree!

When mom moved into her current home, she wasn't satisfied until she had a beech tree sapling planted squarely in the middle of her enormous back yard.  She planted it for Paul and me.  That's love.

Over the years I have continued to be drawn to trees to the extent that my husband refers to me as a Druid, an apt moniker.  He has had to stop the car in order for me to take pictures of particularly striking trees.  I have an album dedicated to the pictures taken over the years and a dream to publish my work or display it somewhere.  Tom has seen me throw my arms around particularly impressive trees as well as witness me mourning the mutilation or death of trees.

The only thing sadder than the untimely death of a beautiful tree (through storm or fire or ill-planned construction) is the scalping of a tree in the name of tree husbandry called topping - as if something akin to tree torture could be considered beneficial to the life and growth of a tree.  I know that those responsible for this kind of abuse believe that they are doing the tree a service but they wouldn't dream of cutting off fingers and toes of a child to help them grow better.  I see no difference.

But enough of my personal rant and back to what I love.....

There is something profoundly beautiful about a tree in winter.  Partly because without all the dressing of green or outrageous fall colors, a winter tree stands proudly naked for all the world to see without regard to age or infirmity assuming, of course, that it hasn't been trimmed and topped and pruned into submission or some other definition of beauty.  A winter tree shows us what it is truly made of.  We can see that each species of tree has a specific shape and quality making it uniquely an oak or a maple or a sycamore or a walnut.  It doesn't hide its weathering or wear.  The breaks and falls it has taken over the years can be seen, but one can also see the self-healing the tree has accomplished given enough time.

Ruthie B is in love with trees for all these reasons.  I especially love the metaphor they represent to a life well lived -  their strength and individuality and character, their ability to provide shelter and protection,  their invitation to climb and explore and reach for the stars.... and their willingness to expose their hearts for all to see.