To the End of the Earth

A very stately elder gentleman friend of mine has recently stated that there are few people for which he would travel to the end of the Earth.  I pondered that statement and then said  “Tell me about this.”

He closed his eyes for a few moments and then tried to explain.

“Well, there are a lot of babes in my past:  You know, the good-looking girls with little to say, the  intelligent ones that could really converse, the good friend types that were comfortable, but I have to admit, I wouldn’t have gone to the end of the earth with any of them.  This one, this gal, I am willing to put my money on the line and see where it goes.  And yes, it feels different.  This feels different.  This feels like love.”   I stood up and gave him a standing ovation.  After all, I have been in his life for twenty years, and seen him in and outside of a marriage and wondered.  I never thought in a million years that he would find someone for the happy ever after.   And now he’s pondering the end of the earth junket?

I love the thought:  to the end of the earth.  I’m glad Galileo figured out that it is round, or we’d fall off for being goozy with someone and yes, following them to the end of the earth.

But wicked humor aside, it is a lovely thought.  I have to wonder how many people really have ever felt that way about anyone in their lives, even their spouses.  It caused me to sort of workshop my own history and so I went over a mental list:  no, never, you’ve got to be kidding, maybe, huh, d’know, another weak maybe and then I screeched to a halt.

OH YEAH!, John.  I would have gone to the ends of the earth for that fine fellow, and in many ways I did.  He’s gone now, left way too soon, or I would still be doing “Same Time Next Year” with him, somehow, even if we got to walkers and guide dogs.  But why John? why not the man I married? why not that other dreary list of maybes and d’knows?

I think it has to do with serendipity, magic, and the ole tried and true, falling in love.  Things look different from the other side of rose-colored glasses.  The practical to do list of a relationship simply flies out the window.  It makes no sense to make sense of any of it.  So maybe it also has the attribute of surrender, to a what the hell, I’ve never felt quite this way in my entire life.

Now some may run far from this realization.  Some may hide in a stable of wannabes…men are particularly good at that option,  But ever so now and then, the bug bites and the “victim” surrenders.

But I need to get back to the End of the Earth gig.  Sure, falling in love is written about in just about every category of existence.  It’s the bug bite thing, the itch that needs to be scratched, the feeling of falling…not rising…falling, through space, with a kind of out of control lack of direction.  I’ve always counselled that this feeling this falling in love thing lasts eight or so weeks.  The can’t live with out it business gets dusty about then and a more practical side sets in.  ……for most…..but then there are those rare couples that stay goozy for a life time.

I remember an old actor once talking about his marriage of 50 years.  He said, “Hell, I still want to grab her in into my arms as soon as I hear her key in the lock.”  WOW.  That’s impressive.  But, hey, that’s how I felt about John.  Every time I’d see him, even after thirty years, I just had to catch my breath.  The sex had gone to the retired end of things but the wow moment hadn’t.  I cherished him.  That’s it.  I cherished him.

So back to the 8 weeks of falling in and out of love for most, it takes a transition of sorts. Falling in love is some sort of whaky mechanism to get pheromones cracking toward the perpetuation of the human race.  Let’s face it, and let’s blame pheromones.  But science aside, loving is a completely different ball of wax.  It requires some sense of time, wounding, losing, finding, staying the distance but it ain’t falling off the rooftops with passion. …….unless it is.

After all the ins and outs of trying to figure out my life of princes charming, dark knights, cool dudes and just plain fabulous men, I guess the Ends of the Earth statement brought me to my knees.  TWO out of 50 or so (no I am not a trollup, I just have years on this one), made the cut.  TWO!  But John, could take all of my frequent flyer miles, if he had asked.

My proper gentleman friend is pondering this as we speak.  He and his sweetheart are going to Antarctica together on a boat cruise.  Now that’s the test of a lifetime, for me at least:  a boat surrounded by water for many many days, a tiny stateroom, and lots of folks we don’t know.  It can mark disaster or the most wonderful adventure of all time, but yes, it is to the ends of the earth, and he knows it.  Smitten? oh yes,  smitten.

As I sit and drink my second cup of coffee, I stare out at freshly falling snow.  Suddenly, I am sitting with John somewhere in time and the feeling I had has not diminished.  He passed some ten years back and I still love him to bits and will so far beyond my years.

And when it comes to the End of my earth?  You bet your sweet ass, I’ll be looking for him on the other side.

Dueling with Insideous Writer’s Block

Maybe the most agonizing aspect of being a writer is the challenge of the ever looming writer’s block. I’ve dueled with it many times in my career and have finally come to some sort of detente with it.

Like kids with lots of energy need naps, so do writers.  Some operate on the premise that after all, it’s a job.  They get fairly ritualistic over it all.  You know:  2.3 cups of freshly ground coffee, toast with avocado to be followed by a shower and then, of course, the uniform…something that respects the craft.  These prissy individuals, some on the best seller list by the way, feel that one must respect one’s craft.

Years ago I went kicking and screaming from corporate suits, panty hose and the ever present time clock.  In my world, that combination was anethema to my creativity.

So I set up a writer’s nook at home, complete with a desk that had a view of the garden outside.  I’d tidy my desk top, line up my pens and then hopefully stare out at the hydrangeas.  It didn’t work.  Command of the craft was like ordering a Prince Charming on sale at Amazon.  It wasn’t my way.

So I took a wilder route:  spontaneity.  I figured that if Ernest Hemingway could write on cocktail napkins, as the bulls raced through the streets of Pamplona, I would try this raucous free-lance gig.  It stuck.  I wrote on backs of bills, in dollar store nothing books, and grabbed anything I could with a surface.  I even tried dictating to a recorder.  I felt like an ass speaking into it so now I just press record for ideas that fly into my brain. Never, repeat Never, on command.

Eventually, I had what shrinks might call a psychic split.  Words would spontaneously arrive, sometimes in the middle of the night.  Sometimes in the shower.  Sometimes driving 90mph on I-5in the middle of nowhere.  By the way, it never occurred to me to pull over at a rest stop.  That would ruin the moment and fortunately on that particular day I had someone beside me.

This is God’s own truth.  I politely asked my friend to steer while I wrote.

If someone from the DMV reads this, I’ll deny it all.

The process, however, worked.  I had some cool music on the CD and again, politely asked my dear friend is she could steer one more time while I read aloud to see if the music and words worked together.  It was a slam dunk.

I need to explain that I-5 goes through a helluva lot of boonies so it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds.

When we arrived at my home, I knew I still needed more.  After all, it was a script for a presentation on Mother Earth and Mother clearly had more to say.

At 3AM I crept out into the living room and wrote the second half.  Order? ritual? no just taking time to honor my muses.  And therein lies the option of psychic split or honoring my muses.

I found soon enough that there was a serious and scientific me an then, Whoa Nelly!, the muse, actually the muses arrived cackling with laughter, sometimes sobbing in agony, anger at the way things appear or wildly passionate with descriptions of wonder.

My “marriage” with my muses is a wonderful love afair that never ends. But freedom is the quintessential agreement.  I don’t get to push.  Deadlines are for dead folks.  Timelines are for those who think they can control the process.

Freedom means admitting to my feeble scribbling hand that sometimes my muses need to take off for the Bahamas.  They reside there in some elegant BNB, snooze in beach chairs and drink umbrella drinks until they get the inclination to return.

In the meantime, I’m on shore looking anxiously through the fog.  But they do return, Always, but Never EVER on command. That’s the way they roll.

A few years back, I wrote a novel about Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.  I was also attempting to finish a fabulous novella that I had started in the Himalayas. I just couldn’t figure out how to finish it.

I received an invitation to Scotland and I jumped at the chance.  After all, Merlin was a Scot.  I had to travel through the mirthless Heathrow airport and was vetted as a Yank who might want to make money in the UK.  I was asked:  Will you be making money while you are here?  Fortunately I answered, O heck now:  I’m praying it will become a best seller down the road.  I’m only here to write.”  Just in case you are wondering, had I answered some egocentric b.s. regarding fame and of course, I’d be making money, they would have put me back on a plane to the US.  That actually happened to someone foolish.

After a few days in Glastonbury and ….. I eventually made it to Highland Cottage on Iona, in the Inner or Outer Hebrides.  I never figured that one out.  That first night I was alone, it stormed and high winds tossed the waves. At 2:30 AM I heard “whisperings”, repeat phrases, sing songy repetition.  I growled, “Go away!.  The sing songy phrases continued.  In desperation, I grabbed my journal and pen and wrote in the dark for over an hour.

When the words stopped, I reached for the wee lamp.  Pages lay before me.  The storm had not abated so I climbed out of bed, turned on the overhead light and read it all aloud to the storm and the crashing waves.  Half way through, I started to sob but kept the reading pace going.  I had finished the last two chapters of my beloved novella.

I promise you, I could never in my scientific half come up with such a spectacular ending.

From that day forward, I deeply honor my muses and try not to notice when they are throwing stuff in their suitcases and preparing for the Bahamas.  Maybe that’s the trick, not pushing. ….waiting and napping until the return.

How to Hold the Heart of a Woman 2018 and onward to forever

It’s really very simple.  After all that’s said and done.

After all the bellowing of liberation and believe me suits

and attache cases, we still appreciate:

  1. Flowers that arrive for no reason whatsoever.
  2. Gifts of thoroughly and irrevocably impractical “girl things”.
  3. Being shown how to clean our battery terminals.
  4. Helping to snow shovel the driveway.
  5. Saying “Yahoo, go get em!” when we do something wildly courageous.
  6. Holding hands in public or at least winking at us while we walk together.
  7. Finding things that have disappeared on our Hard drive.
  8. Dancing slowly and silkily to an old tune….in public and private.
  9. Listening to what we have to say and at least appearing interested.
  10. Compassionately explaining confusing electronics
  11. Covering us in cashmere when we are napping
  12. Calling us “my girl”, sweetheart or love, at least once a year.
  13. Calling on a Thursday afternoon, just to say “I love you.”
  14. Holding us in your arms and saying absolutely NOTHING.

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                                                 Madam Truefire  1994  updated 2017

Valentine words never spoken

If I had one last thing to say to that delicious man, that confusing day, that day when I was trying to be invisible, it might be something like:  Oh for God’s sake, John, we’ve loved each other forever.  Can we just hug one more time, maybe for the gipper?

After all, I was his Stella and he was my Meera.  We were standups in any room playing off of each other’s humor.  Yet we were fancy scientists.  No one ever knew how much we cherished each other.  It just was what it was.  And so on that day on my way to some boring conference, I looked over my shoulder at Room 21.  He was behind that door but I had promised to be invisible.  If I walked back and knocked on the door, someone might see me and blow our cover.

Cover?  It had been 30 years of cover.  So I just closed my eyes tightly and marched directly to the waiting bus.  He stood behind that door, watching out the window or so I imagine.  We didn’t embrace one last time.  We didn’t say, I’ll always love you no matter what.  We didn’t just laugh together over the absurdity of it all.

A few short weeks later I got an email from his grad student.  John had fallen and the diagnosis was brain tumor, undetermined foci.  She gave me his number at the hospital and I called.  The perennial jokester, he said, “Well,  they always said I had a hole in my head.  Now I have two”…  a burr hole for the diagnosis.

He left us all way too soon.  I didn’t attend any funeral ceremony but I stood in the wings three thousand miles away.  I stood and cried and held my heart.  The love of my life was now way out of reach.  If I had one last thing to say to that delicious man, it would be, Ah John, I’m still here and it’s forever.

Looking Back on Mother

This Sunday, September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa will be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.  In simple language:  She will be declared a saint in Heaven, as is she didn’t already occupy that zip code a long time ago.

I spent an incredibly powerful time in Kolkata some years back and Mother Teresa featured highly in that experience.

Looking Back at Mother  

We arise at 4:30a.m.

We will be walking the dark streets to Mother Teresa’s house.  Mass begins at 6.

As we pass through the back alleys of Calcutta (now Kolkata), winding through the Muslim sector, we see many people sleeping on the cement. Early tracings of dawn reveal a city awakening to business as usual. Many later up at gushing fire hydrants. goats hang in the market place. Vegetables lie in piles ready for sale. Slowly, locals rise to get their wares organized for yet another day of haggling.

Beggars sift through the eternal trash in line with a dump truck that races them for scoops. The scent of peat, combined with urine and rotting garbage hangs heavily in the air.

As we turn down the alley, we see the door marked Mother Teresa’s.  Entering the main courtyard, a large statue of the Virgin Mary greets us. Nuns move quietly about their business, readying for Mass and their duties which will take them to the House of the Dying, Home of the Children and other centers near Calcutta, including the leprosarium one hour out of town.

We remove our shoes to enter the chapel and a sense of excitement arises. I am at her very door, this precious woman who has guided my heart for so long. Sisters enter quietly while incessant crows squawk outside the windows midst a cacophany of horns and street noise.

Mother, herself, kneels unassumingly. She appears much tinier that I expected. As I gaze at her feet, I see they have hammered toes. This must be painful. Her severely rounded shoulders and upper back bespeak of osteoporosis. Still the very presence of this extraordinary soul inspires all to quiet smiles of awe. Very much present, this little woman adjusts the light switches above her.

At communion, she leads the sisters and then takes the Eucharist to dispense to lines of postulants, sisters and volunteers. Memory of the sight of her at prayer still thrills me. After Mass, Mother leads the sisters in singing and prayer. They seem almost childlike in their recitation revealing a remarkable innocence.

Later, in an uncommon time alone, she takes my hand and holds it for a long time as we speak together. I ask her if I can videotape some of her centers. “Go photograph the children, photograph the living!” she insists. Before I know it, Mother has arranged a nun to personally escort me to Shu Shu Bhavan, the place of the children.

Later, my companion and I take a taxi across town to the House of the Dying. Entering the huge wooden door, I say to my attorney friend, “Be prepared to walk to the edge of your soul.” This sacred place can be a confrontive experience for anyone. The first time I served here twelve years ago, I spoke with Sister Dolores.

“Sister, I hope I haven’t been in the way. I’m new and just followed in the footsteps of the other volunteers.”

Sister Delores smiled and said,  “My dear, you can carry a body to the morgue, feed an old woman, change bandages, paint beds for the Pope’s visit or just stand at a distance and love them with your eyes. It’s all the same”

We find aprons and gloves and quickly immerse in cleaning plastic mattresses and pillows. I stand at times and simply witness the scenes before us. Encounter of the heart, between volunteers and the sick and dying reveal an amazing experience of compassion.

As the morning wears on, we go from bed to bed, offering a hand, sometimes administering medicine, stroking, feeding or just sitting and holding. While massaging an old woman’s feet, I suddenly ask myself, Why can’t I do this for my own mother? Why do I have to go halfway around the world to experience compassion?

Determined to seek permission to somehow invisibly videotape the “Moments of the Heart”, I return to my hotel with a homework assignment from Sister Priscilla, the lead organizational nun. I must write a letter to explain what I want to do, for what use and who, in fact, I am. Late this night, I search my soul for the words.

A rickshaw driver delivers me and my handwritten letter to the convent. sitting outside the door marked “Private”, I gaze at the simple blue checkered curtains separating within and without:  the points between rest for Mother and greeting the ever-present devotees.

Now, sitting in the wings, I’m not seeking photo opportunities as I watch Mother at work, greeting souls, ruffling baby hair, tickling a child. I see some tiredness behind that tiny arthritic frame. Who protects Mother form exhaustion, a personal Jesus? Who sends her energy? Batteries that just keep on keeping on like the Energizer bunny?

Sister Priscilla suddenly appears and sits down beside me. She delivers the permission signed by Mother, which will enable me to proceed with my video work.

On our last day in Calcutta, I’m not expecting to see  Mother but she suddenly emerges from behind the curtain. She smiles and I say, “We’re leaving today, Mother.”

She hesitates and asks, “Where are you going?”

I answer, “Home, to the U.S.”

She takes my hand and holds it gently and look up. “You are coming back, aren’t you?”

I promise, “Of course, Mother.”

Suddenly she asks, “How many houses do you have?”

“One, Mother, why?”

She laughs and answers, “I have over 500 in 105 countries!”

I counter, “Good Lord, I hope you have someone to clean them all. I have trouble with only one.”

We laugh together and then she speaks quietly to me of dying with grace, dignity and love and how important it is to have support.

And….I hold her hand one more time.

She’s gone now like a whisper on the wind, my beloved Energizer Bunny, who kept on keeping on. She’s left me with a smile, her wonderful business card, medals which keep multiplying, a picture of One Moment in Time and her gentle hand in mine.”

 

The House of the Dying

Looking down on the roof, one can view Kalighat, the temple of the Goddess Kali. It abuts the very walls of the House of the Dying. Here, animal sacrifices take place and the energy is quite Hindu.

In the beginning, the head Brahman of this temple, quite opposed Mother’s work and sought to prevent her from proceeding. When he contracted cholera and lay dying, no one in the temple would touch him. Mother collected him and nursed him herself. After he survived and healed, he became her chief proponent.

After washing and scrubbing, we return to the hotel to change clothes. We immerse our sandals in bactericidal solution. Are there risks working at Kalighat? TB, AIDS and other diseases are rampant in the back streets of India. Still, precautions taken can withstand most challenges.

I soak my sandals for two days, hang them up to dry in the harsh Calcutta sun and give them to the rickshaw driver as a gift. By this time, I’ve purchased rubber sandals that are far more practical.  Geri Lennon

I’m a video producer and author who lives in California.  I’m currently co authoring a bio book on Pandemics and working on a video documentary based on the work Mother Teresa began called “Moments of the Heart, the Path of Compassion”. Over the last several years, I’ve worked as a lay volunteer with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity whenever I can get to India.  I wrote this article after three weeks in Calcutta in 1996.

Another Face of Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than a moment of pause

I have written several op eds on gun control and bigotry.  This morning,
I rose before the sun to pray and then watch CBS Sunday Morning.
I have been traveling and so not in touch with immediate news.
I was shocked to see the news from South Carolina.   There are no words for this author, save “We Shall Overcome”.   In the silence of a Sunday morning even that tried and true, powerful and poignant prime directive leaves me wondering.  WHEN, HOW, WHY?
My heart hurts for us all.  As a friend told me and I quote:  History doesn’t repeat itself, People do……
Later this morning, I will write yet another op ed.  Gun control?  Civil Rights?  Bigotry?  All seem to be mixed in a dismal soup.
I happen to be at home in the Sierras for a brief few days.  I witnessed bigotry yesterday morning from the minister who is judgmental about women, gays, and the glory of war and bring it on, yeah!  Armageddon.  This little white girl didn’t stand still.  I wrote a somewhat strong email to said pastor about it all and his elegant shaming techniques and tricky politicing in this wee village.
We are in a world of strife, mirrored with joy and father’s day and all the media related see saws.  Staying balanced through profound grief is the challenge.
My heart hurts for yet another act of bigotry and gun violence and loss.
I stand in a silent anthem:  Let Peace Begin with Me.  The eery reminder of the 4 little girls so long ago echoes in Charleston.
May God bless all the folks at Emmanuel AME Church.   and may God bless those who will stand and speak for Change.

 

Another Anthem of Sorts

On this the morn of this elusive holiday: Memorial Day,
I sit in silence and honor those who have gone beyond.
Those who valiantly fought wars in the name of?
In the name of protecting a society and a nation and our children.
They, too, were children. May we remember.

Wars have been fought from the beginning of eternity.
When can we stop, and truly take time to remember…
When there were no wars, there were no misunderstandings of nations.
But the beat goes on, and always will…..apparently,
Until heart touches heart, and people simply say NO.
No more war, War no more, and yes, send the children to Canada.
Hide them all under beds emersed in down comforters.
Hide them from the God Almighty audacity that we must invade once again. Once again falls on now deafened ears.

Today, I thank you for the part you and you precious famlies played and it was enormous.