Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What's In A Song?

In my last writing, if you can call it that, I made reference to a piece I wrote some time ago about being a creature of the forest. I have read more thoroughly through my journals and still I have failed to find it. As this long five-week month progresses and I have only posted two entries, I feel a certain sense of urgency or anxiety, a need to re-assert my desire to make the discipline of regular writing a reality. For me the forest beckons, that place where I most clearly feel the presence of God.

This past Sunday morning, Dan realized he’d forgotten the checkbook and it was his last opportunity to order Easter flowers in memory of Aunt Joan. Instead of attending the church’s adult forum, he decided to go back home during the education hour to retrieve the checkbook. My car radio is most frequently tuned to Minnesota Public Radio, so as he drove, he listened to Weekend Edition. It just so happened—you know, in the way I’ve come to believe it never actually just happens—there was a segment called “What’s In A Song?” in which American folk singer Connie Dover explained her song “I am Going to the West.”

Dan was excited to share this with me when he returned to church. First of all, I have been in love with Connie Dover’s music since I first heard her sing with the Celtic folk group Scartaglen on a Narada sampler in the early 90s. While I have not actively pursued a collection of her works, the unmistakable tone and quality of her voice and its accompaniment by simple, Celtic instruments, never fails to send a thrill of recognition and joy through me.

But it wasn’t just that. In the segment, they played the song, and in a voiceover the artist talked about the ideas and images that inspired it. She spoke of that need to commune with nature, that longing to become a part of the forest, rather than simply remaining an intruder. Dan said, “Essentially, Bek, she was describing exactly what you've talked about in the concept of 'joy in the longing.’”

I went to the MPR website to hear for myself. Connie Dover spoke of the American West, the mountains and the forests of Yellowstone. Although I have never seen this particular area, I related deeply to her description of the longing that being among the trees evokes. At one point she said that every time she goes west and sees the landscape start to rise, she experiences a “pounding heart and welling eyes” and I realized my own eyes were welling in response to the song and her words about it.

I get that feeling whenever I am in the woods, but especially on my way to the cabin in Michigan. As the car rolls northward and the landscape is absorbed by cool trees as far as the eye can see, my chest feels like it is literally expanding and I can almost hear a voice whispering, Welcome home! Welcome home!

I don’t wonder that it sounds a lot like Connie Dover.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I can’t thank Susan Hills enough for coining this wonderful interjection. I’m not sure I can explain it eloquently. In fact, I can’t claim that I even understand it exactly, since I’m not the one who made it up. But for me, it is the perfect expression of emotional indecision.

Imagine, if you will, a saucepan over low heat. Toss in a little bit of confusion and frustration followed by both an urge to do something and a complete inability to figure out what, exactly, to do. Add a drop of some strong emotion (to taste, of course) be it joy, fear, incredulity, anger or hope. Slowly increase the heat, agitating that urge to do something, but then add a good shake or two of inaction. When it boils: BLURG!

“Actually, it’s quite good on toast.” --Shrek

I want to write a good blog entry. I want to be witty and inspired. I want to share some of the interesting mental/emotional/spiritual workings of my present Lenten journey. Actually, what I most want to do is either sleep or cry and I can’t even choose between those options. And never mind, really, because the kids get home from school in 20 minutes.

I attempted another cop-out. I know in one of my journals I wrote a serviceable piece on why I consider myself a creature of the forests and lakes rather than the open prairies. Forest imagery seems to be plentiful in my head of late and I can point to lots of times in my history when this theme has cropped up as a conscious or unconscious metaphor for peace, safety and God’s presence. But I spent an hour combing through old journals only to find that I really am quite crazy, that my life journey has been wildly erratic, and that my memory sucks.

So you, dear friends, family and whatever paltry sum of readers bother to stop by this spot, get treated to a focusless rant about absolutely nothing.


I love you, Sue ☺

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Scarf

On Christmas eve, my twelve-year-old niece was wearing one of those fuzzy-looking scarves, the kind made out of that yarn with all the long hairs. You know what I mean, right? Clearly I don’t knit. But the point remains that I instantly loved her white scarf and thought an off-white one just like it would perfectly complete my Christmas eve outfit. After the service, I told her I was envious of her simple and beautiful accessory and wished I had one just like it.

The next morning, my family opened our Christmas presents. Under the tree was a box from my husband’s Aunt Joan (pronounced “Jo-Ann,” not “Jone”) who lived in California.

Unlike me, Joan was an accomplished knitter and in the box was a warm winter hat for each of the “boys,” black for my husband and orange for Gavin, his favorite color. For Eiledon there was a fuzzy pink scarf and matching hat. For me, there was a long, off-white scarf of the type I had, only the evening before, decided would be the perfect accessory. I was deeply touched and somewhat amazed that the woman had read my mind before I even knew my mind, and had done so from a thousand miles away.

I wrote Joan an effusive thank-you note and shared the Christmas eve story of my niece’s scarf. I wanted her to know how much the gift meant to me and how I appreciated her skillful handiwork.

For the next couple of weeks, I proudly wore my new scarf with my bright red coat, but no one said a word. Not a single comment on this addition to my winter-wear. I supposed a scarf was a scarf if you didn’t know the story behind it, so I would proclaim “Look at this gorgeous scarf! Dan’s Aunt Joan knitted this for me!” And to those who had been in attendance on Christmas eve I pointed out, “Remember what I said about Rachel’s scarf and how I wanted one just like it? Isn’t that AMAZING?”

January came and went, and then February trudged in and the scarf began to be simply taken for granted as part of my winter ensemble. And still, no one ever said a thing about it.

We had gotten word over the new year that Joan’s throat cancer had returned. Now, post surgery, she was doing poorly and the cancer was far more aggressive than it had previously been. But there was no clear indication of how bad things really were until we got the call on March 1st that she had died peacefully at home that afternoon.

Dan and I were thrown for a loop. We had sort of had this vague notion that she was not well, but I don’t think it had occurred to either of us that we might lose her so quickly. We discussed it with the kids in a kind of numb shock and they, having known her only a little and mostly through holiday cards and gifts, weren’t sure what to make of it, though Gavin did express quite eloquently that he was very sad that Gammeltante had died.

After supper, I shuffled off to a meeting, after receiving assurances that Dan wouldn’t rather I skip it and stay home. The two hours of my meeting passed joyfully and I could step away from the confusion and grief that had followed me there. 

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some fruit. I dragged my heels through the place, not wanting to get home too quickly, partly, to be honest, because I was hoping Dan would have the kids in bed by the time I got there, but partly because of the sadness. I stared at the various fruit for a lot longer than was warranted for normal selection. At last I made my choices and proceeded to the check-out.

There were no other shoppers that I could see, and the young woman and man at the check-out counter were casually leaning on it and chatting. When I appeared to pay for my items, they snapped to attention and waited on me.

As soon as the woman’s eyes lit on my scarf, she said, “That is a beautiful scarf. It looks really warm and cozy. Does that mean it’s cold out there?”

Casual conversation. Good customer service. But why the scarf? Why not the bright red coat that so often draws comment? Why not the tiny wallet-on-a-string that I call a purse? Someone had, at last, noticed and appropriately complimented my beautiful, hand-made, off-white, long, fuzzy scarf. I had a flash of insight. Joan was somewhere nearby, smiling.

I almost said something about Joan’s passing in response to the compliment, but then chose to keep it and ponder it in my heart. Instead I made some inane remark about the cold, gathered my fruit and headed to my car. I was smiling the whole way.