Some of you are “distance,” and so will only be able to join us in spirit, but if you are close by and wishing for a chance to dive deep for a day of creative exploration and meaning-making, consider joining me with my talented book artist friend, Susan, for a day of play, discovery, fun and memorable moments.
Here’s the announcement:
Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab
with Kathleen Hirsch and Susan Porter
In this day-long workshop, we will celebrate the un-mined stories that live in us, using writing prompts and a rich array of visual materials to explore emerging themes and narratives. Our process will combine writing, mark-making, collage, and mixed media. Students will explore story — fiction, poetry and memoir — through prompts, individual creative time, and sharing. By day’s end, participants will have completed a series of illuminations, one written piece, and several working drafts that they can complete at home.
Saturday, November 11, 2017
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
311 Forest Hills St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
$115 per person (includes materials, pre-payment required)
Susan Porter’s multi-dimensional art journals blur boundaries between collage, printmaking and book arts. She teaches others how to use color, imagery, and text to create their own one-of-a-kind journals. Her work can be viewed at coloringbooksandjournals.com.
The china tea cups were laid out beside a vase of roses. I arrived late to this reunion of high school friends and former teachers, and could hear the laughter from the door as I slipped in. Lunch was over, and our hostess was holding forth, confessing the teenaged pranks of which our former principal and a beloved English teacher were heretofore innocent. Tears of laughter rolled down their cheeks.
Our hostess sat back and took a breath, satisfied that her stories were having the desired effect. This was her party. It would not come again, this day. And in a way that ordinary life doesn’t often underscore, we all knew it.
Cancer is wasting her body. She is as far beyond the reach of Western medical treatment as an untethered kite in the wind.
In the pause that followed our laughter, someone asked how she is doing, really.
“Pain has become my constant companion,” she told us.
The medical marijuana, a lifeline to relief.
And then she was off again, regaling us with more funny stories.
With the diagnosis of Senator John McCain, cancer has entered our collective consciousness, if it wasn’t there already. Through the dark days of dear ones, I have received an unexpected, inestimable gift — recalibration. My friend has brought me back, from the chaos of tweets, and adventitious commentary, to bedrock. Each of us — national heroes, scoundrels, and ordinary citizens alike — is given one singular and precious life. And it is never long enough.
We easily lose touch in the blurry brinksmanship of public life. My devices alert me to yet another Facebook post about lobster rolls, photo-shopped satire, recipes for Turmeric tea. My friend, and now our ailing senator, bring me back to sanity. They remind me of the dignity that accompanies real suffering. With nothing as frontal as the current political patois, they expose what is unworthy, even morally grotesque, in these times. Their argument is simply to wake up each morning with the courage and grace to survive another day. We aren’t dying of cancer, my friend tells me. We are living with it.
Recently with my friend, another visitor confessed her sense of awkwardness, and uncertainty about how to behave in the face of deep suffering.
“I just don’t know what to do,” she said, “or what to say. It makes me avoid the whole thing.”
I thought how frequently we all do this, avoid suffering that we can’t single-handedly or simplistically change — racism, poverty, unemployment, cancer.
My friend looked up from the quilt she was stitching.
“There’s only one thing we really want,” she said gently. “We just want for you to be here with us. Just your presence.”
I was reminded of this the day I arrived late for lunch. I took the empty chair and looked around the table at old, beloved friends. I know these women to be passionately verbal, lovers of story and debate. I know them to be activists, do-it-now people. But here, that day, we were all silent. Occasionally one of us would ask a question, but mainly we listened.
And it struck me that something quite other than our usual verve for problem solving was being asked of us. We were being asked to be witnesses.
Our friend had planned this luncheon as a celebration, so that she could bequeath to us the most precious gift of all: herself. She gave us snapshots that the years had dimmed, tales of her spirited and off-the-wall adolescence, her marijuana smoking, romance-filled 20s, her years as a devoted mother and a successful banker, and her recent journey into prayer and acceptance. She is determined to create meaningful moments and memories as long as she can.
While it is never what we want, there are times when suffering offers what we need, the image of our better nature. My friend, with her generous heart, is teaching me invaluable lessons about how to live. We are here to look one another in the eye, to hold hands, to listen, and to laugh, and somehow, from out of this genuine, heart-felt engagement, to create the conditions that honor — with safety, hope, and opportunity — each life that will never be repeated.
The other day driving in the country, we found ourselves behind a small silver Honda, banged up, a bit rusty and worn by many winters. Hanging on the back was a faded, wind-lashed sign that looked as if it had been there for years: Just Married.
I love the season of weddings.
The mother of a son, I love being let in on conversations about dresses and flowers and rehearsal dinners. What kind of event to hold, and how to make the ceremony meaningful and fresh?
I love the details of fixing up the house, gardens and patios, so that they look their best. And when it’s show time, who doesn’t well up, hearing the processional music, watching the children clumsily strewing flowers down paths in advance of the bride, or listening to the low, earnest voices of the couple – who we knew as little ones, building Lego castles on our living room rug — as they exchange vows?
Maybe I’m getting soft with age, but I actually loved that Honda, decked out with its silly poster. Just like I love looking at the photos, long after the event is over, and remembering who I was standing next to for the toast, what new friends I made, how the cake tasted (after all the hand-wringing over who would bake it), who had a bit too much to drink.
Weddings are about so much more than the event itself. Even in this age of casual, and Lazy Susan “life choices,” they are great, life-defining moments.
I am grateful beyond words to be included in the joy, and am always good for a glass of champagne. But more than this, to attend a wedding involves me, as little else can, in the narrative of a couple’s life going forward — which, those of us older than the young couple know, will never be as easy as they imagine. If children come, I will feel a kinship that only such moments of belonging inspire. If careers wobble or change, if help is needed, by standing in the company of witnesses, I am saying in so many words, “I will be there for you.”
And when, as the years go by, the albums are pulled out for laughs, I am grateful to know that I’ll be part of the memories, as those friends I no longer see are dear players in my own. To be invited to a wedding confers a special value. It is intimacy shared with those who matter most.
This is one of the geniuses of the old notion of sacrament. In the strict meaning of the word, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward grace. But the power of sacrament is its communal nature. A thing is made holy by being shared. In few places is this as obvious as at weddings.
I have been a guest at two weddings this season, both the children of dear friends. The planning, the crises and fine details became, over the course of their year-long preparations, the stuff of friendship’s growth and the deepening of already-close ties. When there was a conflict over the dress, or the need to sample wines, these became threads of conversation. Even before they happened, weddings drew us closer on countless morning walks and long-distance calls; long after they are past, a new richness informs our bonds.
They are the way that we sustain a sense of continuity, of belonging, of family.
The silver Honda brought it all back.
It can be easy in these times to feel left out in the cold, so how wonderful to be welcomed into the warmth! We’ve sipped champagne and danced and felt the joy coursing through us. We have welcomed a beautiful young woman from South Carolina and a talented, funny, infinitely kind young man from Connecticut, into our circle of beloveds.
We’ll cherish those good times with friends who have become family until we fall off our personal chassis.