Saturday, April 20, 2019

And the rains came

the rains came down
and we huddled,
cradling our pain and confusion

this was not the promise.

expectations drowned in mud,
reality in lockstep marching
without malice
without mercy,
a red line slowly strangling
the world.

when all was lost,
when we were lost,
that’s when the rains came down.

and the Earth thundered.
the Heavens split,
Holy Fire engulfed
a man-made Tree,
leaving only bitter Ash

cleansing ash
mixed in mortal silence
as the Living Rains came down. 

-cs Ó041919

Thursday, March 28, 2019

On Keys and Compliments

It was 1983. I was working in the international sales department of a manufacturing company, a job landed two months earlier thanks only to my command of Spanish. The environment was nothing like that of my last full-time employer (a leading law firm in Ecuador).  The rules and jargon of the U.S. labor culture still perplexed me.

At that particular moment, I was interrupting an engineer. Spreading a schematic out on his desk, I pointed to an error in the design. Not that I knew exactly where the error was; I just gestured vaguely in the direction my boss had.

The unhappy engineer made some notes for himself. I reached past him to pick up the schematic. All of a sudden, a smile softened his face and he murmured,  “Someone sure smells good!”

Then, with a horrified look on his face, he stared up at me and blurted, “Oh, but it isn’t you!”

(I later learned that he had been reprimanded for inappropriate comments made to female colleagues. As for me, I’ve giggled over his compliment-backsie for years.)

Compliments. Powerful little bits of encouragement that we’re often too unmindful to give. There’s a juvenile judge in whose court I interpret from time to time. Watching her interact with the teens that file nervously past her bench is a study in the power of compliments. 

One young offender walked forward this week in his Sunday best. The judge smiled and said, “Thank you for dressing so respectfully for court. That’s a great tie.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled in his thirteen-year-old voice (part man, part boy, part yodeler), and stood a little taller than before.

She does this with all the kids in one way or another.  

I was thinking about that when I left the courthouse. Thinking about how easy it isespecially on social mediato criticize those who are too young, too old, too different or just don’t seem to have a handle on life, overlooking the chances to build someone up. 

While lost in thought, I pulled up to the post office to check the day’s mail. The battery has gone out on my key fob and I haven’t found my teeny little screwdriver yet, so I’ve been locking the car manually. As I walked to the post office door I shifted the keys in my hand. The key ring felt light. And small.

The car key was missing.

I retraced my steps. Nothing on the ground. But when I peered through the window of my car, there it was: my key, lying neatly in plain view. The ring that attached it to the rest, the ring that I kept meaning to replace, was flimsy and had come loose from the rest of my keys.

Stepping inside the post office, I called roadside assistance. Just telling the operator that I’d locked myself out of the car apparently wasn’t enough. I felt compelled to explain about the flimsy ring, and the dead battery, and how this hadn't happened in a long time, and how I’d make sure to take care of it all right away. She listened patiently, an impromptu Mother Confessor who tried to assure me that I had no reason to feel dumb even though we both knew differently.

Fifteen minutes later, a man in a roadside assistance car pulled up beside me. About three minutes after that, my door was open and I could sheepishly return to normal life.

As he reached past me to pick up his logbook, my rescuer’s face eased into a smile. “Someone sure smells good,” he said. “That perfume is perfect for you!” 

Then he got in his car and drove away, leaving me just a little bit taller.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Borders and a New Year's Prayer

I’ve been thinking a lot about borders, current events being what they are. 

At a Rio Grande summit last month where I served as the interpreter, someone made the simple but profound observation that you cannot see the border in the river. The image gripped me. 

It got me to thinking about water and baptism and new life and how we all have borders in our lives because change is one of those inevitable things, like death, taxes and the pull of gravity on body parts. 

I don’t know about you, but when I plan a journey I start with the destination and work backwards. If there is no To, there can be no From, and I find myself forever parked at the starting line, wondering where to set my sails.* 

Of course, most of my journeys happen without planning. I pin my hopes or expectations or fears on a distant point and somewhere along the way realize that I’m headed there, gathering experiences (and pounds and wrinkles) as I go. Somewhere along the way, I reach a border between what was and what will be. 

The thing is, whether the journey is planned or (more commonly) accidental, I tend to forget that after reaching the border, after I rest and take a breath, I will inevitably – there’s that word again – head for yet another border. Another invisible line between what was and is, and what will be. 

And while I may not see it, the experience is always a baptism. Each border always brings a death and rebirth of sorts.

I think about things that drive people from their physical homes and homelands, and those that drive us from our metaphorical ones.

I think about the fears, dreams, or needs that push and pull us into the journey and how they trigger fear or hope in others along the way, others who are then pushed or pulled into their own journeys, carried to their own borders, facing their own invisible lines.

And in the crisscross of our paths and borderlines, I find sketched the face of our common humanity.

So here’s my prayer for 2019: whether we look at the exhausted faces of refugees fleeing conditions most of us cannot imagine, or the careworn faces of our neighbors whose struggles we cannot see, may we all extend a little mercy and remember the grace we have been given.  

*Metaphors may be unapologetically mixed, shaken or stirred this New Year’s Day.

© 2019 Carol Shaw