Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Along my path of world citizenship

The afternoon train that typically brings me back to my German “hometown” of Wertheim.

I’ve been retracing a path of family history, following portions of the route that brought my parents together in England during World War II and eventually resulted in my speaking German (well, a kindergartner’s “German”) almost as early as I spoke my mother tongue.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of Germany’s most-visited towns.

During the U.S. occupation of Europe after the war, my military family spent two tours in Germany, the last of which holds my oldest memories.

In the winter of 1960, we sailed across the Atlantic to a very new life. As military housing was at a premium, we lived “on the economy,” first in a hotel that I still visit, then in a tiny village 45 minutes from Frankfurt. A family named Geis welcomed us into the ground floor of their home while they squeezed upstairs to make room for us.

My British grandmother visited us in Germany in 1960.

Contrary to popular belief about German-American relations at the time, they were unfailingly kind and astonishingly generous, especially since they had very little after the war. While they no doubt welcomed the money they received for sharing that clean, accommodating space with us, they always felt more like grandparents than landlords to me.

What I remember most is how cheerful and happy they always were. I later learned that Herr Geis, like my family, was a recent arrival in Germany. Before that, his wife and children had waited nearly 15 years while he was a prisoner of war in a Russian prison camp, wondering whether they’d ever see him again. I understand now that after he came home, they saw every day as a new beginning and treated it like something too precious to waste on anything but gratitude and joy.

Along the Main River near Wertheim.

It was during Easter week that this couple and I shared one of my earliest intercultural exchanges. One day my parents had some appointments and errands and the Geises offered to watch me while they were away. My four-year-old self delighted in the day’s pursuits, which actually involved little more than following along behind the couple as they did their chores, preparing their field near the Main River for planting, and helping me discover some stray potatoes they’d missed at harvest time.

After we’d eaten those at the mid-day meal, together with eggs we’d collected from their hens, they introduced me to my first Easter eggs.

We were coloring them when my parents appeared at their kitchen door, bearing some traditional American fare — Hershey bars and a big bowl of popcorn — that they’d brought as an Easter gift and thank-you.

Würzburg, Germany, after the war.

Most Germans had never seen popcorn, since corn was grown only for animal feed in Europe in those days. That bowl lasted for hours as the Geises removed a piece at a time, holding it up and marveling as they named the creature or object that its shape approximated. Eventually, we all began to do the same amid lots of laughter, and a pretty good vocabulary lesson on both sides of our collective language barrier.

This event stands out in my memory because it signals such a perceptible shift in my family’s bond with the Geises, the kind that meant they’d become regular guests at our military-base quarters on-base quarters long after we’d moved from our temporary shelter in their house.

I didn’t know of any other American families who shared this kind of friendship, and after my mother’s horrific experiences during the Blitz in Britain, most anyone would have forgiven her if she’d been hesitant to embrace Germans.

As I travel through Germany all these decades later, I feel eternally thankful for parents who were always able to see the humanity in any situation, above and beyond past history or politics. I realize today what a vital part of peace-building this is.

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

 

 

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A song above all other songs

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

… Let us hearken to the melody which will stir the world of humanity, so that the people may be transformed with joy.

Let us listen to a symphony which will confer life on man; then we can obtain universal results; then we shall receive a new spirit; then we shall become illumined.

Let us investigate a song which is above all songs; one which will develop the spirit and produce harmony and exhilaration, unfolding the inner potentialities of life.

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Image courtesy of Ziya Rezvani

~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha

 

Shut your eyes so the heart may become your eye
and with that vision look upon another world.

~ Rumi

Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.

~ Garrison Keillor


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Eternal life begins with what lasts forever

Some thoughts in darkening hours, and a dawning Season of Light:

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Photo: Oliver Schratz

Nothing that exists remains in a state of repose.

Everything is either growing or declining.

Benevolent Forces are in evidence, as we are invited away from “fighting evil” toward our human family’s next exciting stage: creative, collaborative, and limitless building of the good.

We are here to mirror to each other the attributes of our Creator.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

Every attribute and faculty we possess, known and unknown, comes into balance as we strive to align the acts of giving and receiving.

Eternal life begins when we honor what lasts forever.

The gift of this age, bestowed on all humanity, is the right each one of us has to investigate reality independently, and to learn to see with the eye of oneness.

The natural outcome of that is to express —  willingly — joyful acts of service, our personal and collective pathway for building the good.

These should be more than enough points of focus to free our hearts from the weight of a world’s unreal illusions this week.

Here’s hoping.

Learn more about these possibilities in With Thine Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past When We Can Investigate Reality?

Find more about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Thine-Own-Eyes-Imitate-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I


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Born of certitude, inhabiting our lives fully

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Photo: Liz Turner

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

The inner joy that every individual seeks, unlike a passing emotion, is not contingent on outside influences; it is a condition, born of certitude and conscious knowledge, fostered by a pure heart, which is able to distinguish between that which has permanence and that which is superficial.

 ~ The Universal House of Justice

The beauty of the terrible situation that we are in is that it forces us back into ourselves to fully inhabit our own lives.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

~ Jim Haba

Acceptance of what is – and the way it makes you feel – is the mother of invention.

Balance does not mean uniformity. It means arranging things in way that enables energy to move FREELY.

Creative energy is magnetic emotional energy. It attracts. It draws us to it – and draws itself out of us.

 ~ Christine DeLorey


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In the borderlands

strasbourgI recently returned to Europe for the first time since the release of my novel, The Munich Girl. Though my husband and I travel there a lot, this trip’s itinerary included places we’ve seldom or never visited.

Our route followed the natural border of the Rhine River, which means we repeatedly encountered those curious amalgamations of cuisine, culture, architectural styles, and attitudes that occur along divisions that humans decide ought to exist simply because geography seems to suggest them.

photo-2In the building dwarfed by its neighbors in the photo to the right, we, in a scene like something out of The Pink Panther, spoke three languages with the server in the course of his taking our order. As we all tried to accommodate each other, one or more of us kept shifting to a new one at exactly the wrong time. But I think we all appreciated the spirit of our intent.

We still wound up with some of the best Alsatian cooking I’ve had in a long time, generous with onions, cheese, and light buttery pastry I’ve found nowhere else.

833602_Food-KitchenWise-Alsatian-OThis section of France’s border with Germany is long-accustomed to shifting back and forth between nationalities and languages. As our tour guide explained why it is that even the youngest schoolchildren here have their classes in at least three languages, she described how, between world wars and other upheavals, her grandfather’s nationality changed four times in his 20th-century lifetime, though he never moved from his home city.

Much like clouds and changes in the weather, political insistence and other demands that humans impose on each other can come and go, often with great extremes. Within individual lives, challenges can arise in this way, too.

thHow we face and meet our choices — and what that helps us become — seems the vital focus in it all, however dire or uncertain things may appear.

And in that experience, though we walk the path of our individual lives alone, we also seem inextricably linked. This is one of the themes that I hope the story of The Munich Girl manages to convey.

Traveling along the borderlands of this river reminded me that navigating shifts in our circumstances is one of the main opportunities we receive to hone and develop some particularly pleasing qualities. I encountered them over and over in our stops along this route: a spirit of acceptance, flexibility, adaptability. Resilience. Relaxed openness. Even, delightfully, a kind of good-humored playfulness.

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Image: Charity Elise Designs / Charity Pabst-Hofert

It was as if over time, through all of that practice with change, people have adopted something of the flow that the river embodies.

“Thou wast created to bear and endure,” one passage from Baha’i writings states, while another declares that we are “created for happiness.”

These might sometimes seem nearly contradictory.

Perhaps the people I observed as I traveled have begun to reconcile what joy and hardship have to show us when we don’t impose a border between them; learned to understand that, like the waters of the river, each comes and goes, like the clouds and waters — and even invading armies.

But we get to decide how we embrace and anchor our own happiness.

 


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In a full heart there is room

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Wertheim flowerbox photo: Jon Ring

Just like one of the characters in my novel, my mother had a Leap-Year birthday on February 29. As my sister and I remember her this year, I’m grateful to share a guest post from my sister that carries my mother’s voice — unmistakable to my inner ear, across years and the incomprehensible distance between this life and the next — in ways that leave my heart astonished.

It was captured at a time of unbearable loss, and unfathomable mystery, just the sort of atmospheres in which our mother knew how to accompany us.

 

Guest Post

By Tracey Edgerly Meloni

I need my mother.

I’m twelve years too late, but never have I needed her more than at this moment. Her last words to me were, “I’ll always be with you,” though I doubt either of us believed that she was being literal.

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Photo: Karen Olin Darling

This is not what I expected, this waiting for Bob, the last time I will see him in this hospital, the last time I will touch his hand, brush his lips with mine. Sometime between when a tinny voice called me in the middle of the night and when I arrived here, he was spirited away from his sterile ICU cubicle (now stripped and eerily empty) to this unknown room I am waiting to enter. The Visitation Room, they call it. Doctors, nurses, orderlies and general helpers bustle past; no one looks at me.

I am sitting in the Dead Zone, an awkward limbo to hospital personnel: the patient is no longer here, but has not yet left the building.

Don’t worry — you know they are getting him ready. And I will be with you.

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Painting, “Movement” by Diane Kirkup

Mum is here – that deliciously throaty voice, Helen Mirren meets Lauren Bacall, her Arden scent wrapping around me like her slender arms.

Yes, I do know, after years as a doctor’s wife,

I know about  “getting him ready.” Removing the tubes and wires, masking the bruises, the torn skin, the paddle burns; erasing that final image, the moment of knowing alarm, from his features. I’ve been there hundreds of times, but not with my Bob being the one readied. Definitely I am looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Let’s go away somewhere for now – pick your happiest memory.

There were so many … let’s go with Turks and Caicos, 1987, before the Glitterati discovered it, when only one gas pump, a Club Med and the most glorious scuba diving in the hemisphere defined it. When torrid and wine-drenched afternoons were spent lying naked under the lazy ceiling fan …

thOK, enough … I am your Mum, after all, and you were a long way from married then … pick another memory.

In Venice, on the Grand Canal, in the bridal suite of the Regina-Europa, toasting Mum’s leap-year birthday at a time when no sane person goes to Venice.

Or in Cairo, having dinner at sunset on the Nile …

Or in Djibouti, where “Bombay Bob” gained fame on our 100-passenger explorer vessel for my dubious lyrics, to the tune of the old “Pretty Baby:”

“If you miss the final shuttle

Say GOODBYE, your cruise is scuttled,

In Djibouti today!”

Naked stuff there, too, yes?

483660_10151501579297641_2073824323_nThere, and everywhere.  Soul mates and best friends and … yes.

“Mrs. Meloni? You may come in now – and my condolences.”

Mum says nothing – For this, I must step forward on my own.

The room is ridiculous, chintz and lavender wallpaper and a rocking chair, as if I am welcoming him to the world, not saying goodbye.

He is clean, pink, scrubbed – no sign of the odious central line that became so infected, all evidence of his cracked chest,  ventilator, bedsores and other bodily harm hidden by an Amish quilt. Terrible music – Mantovani Mediocrity, elevator music – plays softly in the background. Tears, the unbidden, unattractive snotty-nosed kind, threaten.

No, no, no! We don’t cry for bad taste and worse music. Get everyone out of here and be alone with him – capture what you need.

I ask everyone to leave. I kiss his forehead, his earlobe, his neck. I slide off his wedding ring, knowing I will wear it on a chain around my neck, maybe forever. I marvel at his peaceful expression, so different from yesterday’s angst. I long to stroke all of him, but know that those days are over.

Never again will we lie naked together, under a lazy ceiling fan.

Some not-quite-a-nurse person hands me a plastic bag: the dead man’s stuff, no longer needed. Glasses and underwear and a book he never read about Cole Porter.

I think of his spider-quote from EB White: “and I … as spiders do, attach one single thread to you, for my returning …”

Mum

Peggy Wilson Edgerly, 29 Feb. 1920 – 4 Nov. 2000.

You’ve forgotten Antonio, she reminds me;  we both love Antonio Porchia, especially  in a full heart there is room for everything and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.”

I cock my head to one side, holding Bob’s hand gently, wondering what she will say, and if she will come back again.

She blows me away:

Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists.

 

 A heart full of thanks to writer Tracey Edgerly Meloni

 


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The rugged road to blessings

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

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Photo: Lara Kearns

We are all of us searching for love, for the intimacy, closeness, tenderness we may remember from when we were in our mother’s arms or may have glimpsed in a lover’s embrace. Or we may know it just as a sense of something we always wanted, something missing from our life.

This love is at the core of our being, and yet we search for it everywhere, so often causing our self pain in the process, losing our way, becoming entangled in our desires and all our images of love.

Then, one day, something makes us turn away from the outer world to seek this truth within us.

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Photo: Lara Kearns

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter.

It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow.

Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

~ Rumi

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Photo: Lara Kearns

The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.

… To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace.

Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.

 ~ Terry Tempest Williams