I’ve chosen that double-dip name for my blog (Sophy-wisdom), first because Sophy is my Christened name, spelt like that, with a “y,” and then because all my life I’ve been straining and struggling to find wisdom.
We all know Christmas is about giving. We forget that receiving is another gift. It’s hard to receive. It’s as hard as asking for help. Some people naturally know how to do it: They open the present slowly, shaking the box, pulling off ribbon with delighted attention, mischievously examining the paper, wondering what’s inside . . . followed by a cheer of delight. But others—I know a man who just can’t manage it. As the son of an alcoholic, he was never taught to break into a smile, eyes crinkling with pleasure, much less leap to his feet and give the giver a kiss at receiving “just what I wanted!”
It takes some of the pleasure out of giving. Not everyone is by nature exuberant. But this man is an extreme example. Another person might cast down her eyes in shy embarrassment, or slide the present under a pillow in an effort to take the attention off herself; and still you know she liked the gift. Sometimes a gentle smile, a quiet nod, is enough to tell you that your gift hit home, and moments such as these are treasured as well. On the other hand I know a little girl who, without any training at all, knows everything about the gift of receiving. “Oh!” she cries, her face lighting up. “This is the just the best!” And even if you know it isn’t, that you had to buy a less expensive version than you wanted, her pleasure is so infectious that you feel the warmth lift up your frozen heart.
But giving is hard too, and fraught with perils, like sunken shipwrecks ready to stove us in. Once my former husband gave me a whole set of cooking pots for Christmas. I burst into tears. I wanted something related to my work. A typewriter ribbon would have done. Continue reading
“Writing is a form of therapy: sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Graham Greene
October, and again we have the pleasure of frightening ourselves with witches, goblins, ghouls, and ghosts; with skeletal hands reaching from the grave, or zombies clunking heavily toward us with sightless eyes to drink our blood.
Why do we like to frighten ourselves? Most animals find life quite scary enough without adding in imagination. We court fear. We pay to watch horror films (there is always a girl who descends the basement steps in the dark where you KNOW the murderer lies waiting!). When I was just a little girl, I remember reading Dracula late one night in my father’s study, and being so frightened that I couldn’t leave the lighted room to go to bed! Such is the thrill of being afraid—when it’s safe.
Then there’s unsafe fear. Once when I was a young girl I met a man who confessed that he saw a therapist for his anxiety—and my innocent response, “What’s anxiety?”
I don’t think I ever heard the word as a girl, but as I grew older, a wave would wash over me sometimes, boiling me like an ocean breaker. I’d be sitting at a swimming pool watching my little children play, and suddenly I’d be overwhelmed by the sense that I ought to be somewhere else, except I didn’t know where— Continue reading
“Look, the trees are turning,” she said, glancing out the picture window toward the New Hampshire woods, and everything in me wanted to cry out: Not yet! Too soon!
September marks the beginning of the new year. The children are back at school, anxious or excited, happy with their new classes, or disappointed. You see them on early mornings at the side of the road waiting for their yellow buses. The little ones are so brave, their enormous book bags towering over their heads, almost taller than their tiny legs. The big kids jostle and push, overflowing with energy too strong to allow just standing still. My garden, too, is in transition. The grass grows slower now, needing less mowing. The straggly, leggy plants have given an explosion of defiant berries and bloom, as glorious as springtime but more beautiful somehow, yet moving inexorably toward decline– as leggy as my teenage granddaughter, who is also in transition, but in her case toward young womanhood. The squirrels dash heedlessly across the roads and spiral up the trees, as if there’s no time left to relax in late summer heat. Burrs fly onto our clothes if we take a walk, clinging to be carried to new environments, and all of life—bees, moths, chipmunks, squirrels, children, grass, trees, and, yes, we adults too—feel the planet tilt in its orbit, sharpening and shortening the light: Time speeding up.
We are all in transition. To be closer to her children, my sister has sold her house and is moving to a city where she knows no one. Continue reading
Summertime, and the living is easy. Our cultural memories are rich with summertime: the slap of a screen door to the excited calls of children; of dozing in a hammock over a good book, or casting a fishing line onto the black river; of days on the beach, ice cream cones, and iced tea sipped on the porch; of just slowing down; baseball games, and barbecues, or cold suppers served in a long, sweet dusk that extends for hours. More recently it’s remembering to snatch a sweater as you step into the heat, because of the freezing air conditioning at the store.
Summertime. And in this period when we are assaulted—barraged—by our culture of FEAR and the constant recording of inescapable grief, anguish, sorrow and suffering . . . I think we need reminders of the bubbling, playful, lighthearted side of life. We need to remember that all is not lost, and it is our heritage to laugh and play. I don’t know who first coined most of these sayings, but here I offer to you, little bubbles of happiness: Continue reading
There is a saying in the 12-step Alcoholic Anonymous program that “You will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” And mostly this is true, except when I find myself awake in the darkest hours of a morning night defenseless against the Inner Judge who prowls the corridors of my mind, slashing the heads off any blooming optimism with his savage cane. Why am I so helpless at that dark hour? Are all the angels sleeping still?
It has set me thinking: Where did I learn that although lesser mortals may make mistakes I’m not allowed to? Of course, we were taught so many axioms as children that are downright wrong. For example: Opportunity Knocks But Once. NONSENSE! I shout. Observation and experience have shown me that so generous is Providence, so loving, so adventurous, that She offers opportunities over and over and over again; and never does She feel annoyed by our refusal to accept. “You don’t like that opportunity? She cries out tenderly, Here! Try this one instead.”
Here’s another thing that I was taught at my elders’ perfectionist knees: that mistakes are bad. Yet how many times have I made a mistake, tripped off in a completely wrong direction, only to discover the misstep was a blessing. Continue reading
May is Osteoporosis Month, whatever that means. It’s also, as most people in the USA know by now, Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of the month, when I phone my children to remind them that they have a loving mother without whom (plus chance, God, a father and doctors) they would not be doing whatever they are doing right now.
It’s also the month when I remember longingly my own mother. I waken in the balmy dark, the stars still swinging gallantly overhead, and squirm with regrets made harsher by my defenselessness in these black hours. Did I tell my mother I loved her? Certainly I never sent a card. My mother was a woman of strong convictions. When she told us, voice dripping with scorn, of her disdain for a Hallmark day—created by Business to make people drop their well-earned money on soppy cards for the benefit of some unknown Business—none of us would have dreamt of sending her a card.
But lying anguished in bed at 4:00 a.m. with the bats of remorse battering at my brainpan, I wonder if her scorn was not a defense, to ensure that she would not be disappointed when she didn’t receive a card. Why did I never send my mother a Mother’s Day card in spite of her disapproval? Or phone. Did I ever phone? Continue reading
“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. ”
W. H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
If you get lost in life, put your ear to the ground and listen to its pounding heart.
Old Sami saying
As I write this one cold and windy March, I find myself longing for April springtime, with the flowers blooming yellow, pink, and blue against green grass and the trees stretch and come awake. By April, here in the mid-Atlantic states, the little leaves of trees uncurl so fast that in only hours they are waving their little paws in delight. The squirrels dash up and down the wrinkled bark, and birds raise a chorus of alleluias to the equinoxian light.
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,”wrote the novelist George Eliot, “it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
Surely if we had ears keen enough, we would hear the thunder of the tulips as they thrust violently up through the soil, unfurling leaves and blooms, or we’d hear the low bass of the petrichoring rocks, lifting dusty faces to be washed. This is the time when we are called to go out “forest bathing,” as the Japanese call it, though most of us, living in cities, have to make an effort to be in the presence of tall trees. So, let us talk, now, about trees—and of the only vicious tree I’ve ever met. Continue reading
My blog is infected with ads. Does anyone know how to get rid of them? If not, I may shut it down rather than submit my readers (if there are any) to the bullying intrusion of ads. I am furious. It’s expression of the demonic; and I’m not teasing, for don’t most examples of the Dark Side come as minor irritating insignificant malicious little interventions, and not the dramatic fire and fury that we associate with a fork-tailed, goat-footed, grinning, hairy, evil Satan. What do I do (apart from praying)? Does anyone out there know?
And now for stories, two new and happy ones. Because, especially during trying times, we need the hopeful stories. We need to remember that the Universe is always reaching out to us, loving and laughing. The question is, Can we hear? Someone once wrote, “Pain is the touchstone of the spiritual life.” But I think joy is the touchstone to the spiritual. So, here comes joy.
Thirteen years ago I bought my beautiful half-Arab mare. I met her when she was only three years old, and riding her that day in New Mexico, I (an experienced rider since childhood) thought how unusual she was. I had never met a horse so attuned to me, so willing, so trusting, so courageous. And so kind! Yet she was still a baby. I remember Continue reading
In dark December, when everyone was harking to angels and the return of the Light, the Atlantic Monthlypublished a story about demonic possession. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/arcive/2018/23/catholic-exorcisms-on-the-rise/573943.) An acquaintance made sure I saw it: “I know you write about angels,” he wrote. “What do you think of demons?”
Well, I seen the demonic, and I guess I have to tell at least one story. So now I will walk with you into the darkness that I don’t like even to think about, for you cannot believe in the Light without recognizing the shadows that it casts. But first, some background:
The AtlanticMonthlyarticle is long and well researched. I recommend it. It tells of the ancient Babylonian priests who cast wax figurines of demons into a fire, of the Hindu Vedas, that date to 1500 BCE, and speak of supernatural beings that try to spread evil and malice in our lives. It describes one exorcism of 1831, in which the poor girl froths at the mouth and takes on a different screaming personality—until delivered. The article describes through the years the inspirations for Willliam Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, the Exorcism, the 1973, film of which is considered one of the most frightening movies ever made.
Gallup Polls conducted in recent decades suggest that roughly half of Americans believe in demonic possession. Those who believe in the Devil, or Satan, rose from 55% in 1990 to 70% in 2007. Continue reading