Kathleen Hirsch | Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch
Blog and spiritual writings of Kathleen Hirsch including an archive of her columns for BostonGlobe.com and Cruxnow.com
Spiritual writing, Kathleen Hirsch, crux, cruxnow
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The Season of Weddings

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.

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to The Conversation

Welcome to the re-launch of my blog!

The past two months have been a flurry of travel and work, visits to beautiful places and connection with friends not seen in years.

All have made me aware that beyond the realms of the daily strivings – even, the hours of creativity and actions to better the world –  friendship is the most precious thing that we share, something so valuable that I have changed this site to reflect it.

The change is towards dialogue.   My hope is that this will become a place where we pool the insights of our passing days to sustain us on our journeys.   I hope my stories and reflections will inspire yours, that you will chime in, and that this will become a space of gathered wisdom for all who care to visit.

I am calling it: The Conversation.

The Conversation will rely on your Comments – please note the added feature here.

Stay tuned.  I am in the process of creating other opportunities for gathering – in person and virtually.

But now, a brief offering from my time away.

A dear friend passed away yesterday after four valiant years of battling cancer.  I can still see Deborah at her 50th birthday party, twenty-odd years ago.  She had rented a small performance space in Boston, set up café tables for us, her audience, and for an hour dazzled and delighted us with her virtuoso piano playing and singing from on stage.

I’m sure that night most of us were thinking,  “Wow – would I ever have the guts to do this?!?!?”

But not Deborah.  She was fearless, exuberant, sensational – bold, humorous, and delighted by life.  Always.  Mostly, she was thrilled to be with friends, giving us the pleasure of her talents, capabilities, and vast stores of Texan humor, that lit up every room she ever entered.

All of us who knew her will carry her light to the end of our days, and hopefully cast a bit of it for others before our last breaths.

Rediscovering the grace and original blessing of friends had been the gift of these past few months for me.  I’ve gathered with old high school friends also struggling with illness, pulled out wedding albums and newspaper clippings from childhood, shared meals and stories, reacquainted with their children, and done those silly, remarkably meaningful things like recalling the flavors of lollipops at the amusement part we frequented as 12 years old.

Can it get better than this — that I have friends with whom I can share such memories?

None of these conversations were about who’s right or wrong, who’s up or down, who has been to the latest restaurant or has something to say about the book they are reading.  They haven’t been filled with obsessive worrying.  They haven’t even been about the ample topics we’ve made the time to catch up on.

Not at all.

These things are fine in moderation, the wholecloth of our daily rounds.  But the “conversations” I’m describing have had value chiefly in the words beneath the spoken words.

They’ve been about vulnerability, trust, and self-disclosure.  Even when we’ve been talking about coconut-flavored lollipops, we’ve been engaged in exchanges of the heart, a flow of communion, support and love that words just dress in temporal garb.

I hope that such meaningful conversation will continue here, and become a wellspring for us all.

Please join me!

Happy Summer

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All That We Don’t Understand

For weeks after my younger brother died, many years ago, he came to me at night, always at the hour of his death.  He would enter the room when I slept, gently, and I would waken, and we would spend time together.  We didn’t talk.   But those hours resolved many things between us.

Some of the unfinished business in his life seemed to filter away, some he bequeathed to me.  These were profound events that I remember even now, like they were yesterday.

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Resurrection

She couldn’t remember how long she had moved through life like an open, well-disguised, wound.  She was articulate and beautiful, and her pride was a rapier intelligence.  She’d have made a good litigator.  I know, because she could reduce a theological proposition to dust in a heartbeat with one of her challenging questions.

A psychologist by profession, she had exhausted every avenue of self-analysis without finding relief for the problems that beset her:  a push-me-pull-you relationship with a partner, alienation from her family, a sense of dislocation.  She came to my door feeling numb.

She told me that she wanted to “try God.”

By this, I soon discovered, she meant, “take God on.”

We spoke together over many months, discussing books, ways of praying, ideas, Scripture.  It was an intellectual dance, and I began to see that it paralleled an exterior life of perpetual advance and retreat.  She stayed in one place for only a year or two, laying plans to leave before she’d settled in.  She took up multiple partners.  She was a master escape artist.  Always, she had an out.  And she’d always taken it, moving away, finding a new job, a new city.

One day as I sat across from her, feeling her vulnerability behind the mask of calm and cool, I asked her, “Why are you here?”

She hadn’t expected this.  Her dance partner had dropped back, to look more closely at the steps we were repeating over and over again.

It was a labyrinthine dance of pain, but also of safety.  Round and round.  An exercise in propping up her problems, or images of God, only to them strike down, to reject or dabble, or explore as intellectual propositions.

We sat with a lot of silence that day.  Words were incapable of reaching into the place where the dance ended.

After some time she asked, in a small, exposed voice, “Where was God when I needed him?”

It was the first expression of genuine feeling I’d heard from her in all those many months.

None of us escape the desolate hours.  How many times have I asked the same question?  Wakened in the middle of the night feeling existentially alone, moved through weeks not knowing in hindsight what got me through?  Her adolescence had been shattered by a mentally-ill parent around whom the family navigated, with many raw edges.   What died in her during those years wasn’t just hope, and it wasn’t just faith.  What died was the idea of God as a source of love, comfort, affirmation.

She’d been wandering ever since, walled off from the worst of her pain by her brilliant mask, never daring for a moment to release her grip on the strategies that had “worked” – at least, had gotten her through.  But at a price.

She left, and I didn’t know if I would see her again.

Time passed.

Recently, she came to visit.

“I’m thinking of staying, getting a new apartment, “she smiled for the first time in months.  “I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to leave.”

This wasn’t all.

“I saw my mother a few weeks ago,” she went on. “She told me that she hopes I’ll stay, and for the first time in years I heard this as a genuine expression of her love.”

Tears started running down her cheeks.

“Something has shifted,” she told me.

Sometimes the dance needs to stop, the masks be removed.  Only in this way can we find our way back to the beating heart that hides, protecting itself, sparring with shadows.  It’s very hard to do this alone.  We need each other to name the dance of our harsh inner tapes, our inability to forgive, or spinning in circles – however elegant or articulate.

What had changed? I asked her.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she said, “but I seem able to appreciate everything I have more fully.  I’m paying attention to things, realizing that I actually like some of the people I work with.  I have a lot to be grateful for.”

“God never left you,” I told her, able to share what I have had to learn over and over again in my own life.  “You asked where God was when you needed him, in your darkest times.  God was there.  It was God who was weeping in you.”

This is the discovery.   When we slip out from under our rocks of hurt and unworthiness and anger and shame, when we allow the light of a love without agenda to crack our stone walls, something amazing happens.  We let in a power that can destroy our self-made tombs, and begin to emerge into something bigger and more real than we’d imagined.

It is scary to do this.  It’s much easier, I suspect, to be a blade of grass than a human being.  But the newly greening grass helps to remind us:  Resurrection is all around us, quiet as a smile and a direct glance where once there was evasion, self-protective wit, a distance of fear.  It takes a friend, a teacher, a gardener, someone who is genuinely interested in the answer to the question, “Who are you really?  Tell me your story.  Why are you here?”

 

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Breaking Cookies: A Story of Necessary Conversation

Over spring break I gave my students an assignment:  Find someone who holds opposing political views and conduct a civil conversation.

Ask questions, I told them.  Listen without judgment.  Try to find common ground.

Predictably, some chose roommates.  But a handful did the difficult thing.  They talked to strangers.

One travelled to Kent Country, MI, to build a Habitat home.  There, on a rooftop, she met an 82 year old who uses his skills to help neighbors in need.

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Spring Into Your Creativity

To My Fellow Writers, Seekers, and Artists

With the thaws this winter have come a few exciting creative ventures.  Upcoming is one that, if you are local, you may want to check out:

On Saturday, May 13, I am collaborating with a highly gifted book artist, Susan Porter, to offer a new workshop called Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab.  It weaves together my creative and contemplative writing techniques with Susan’s astonishing color, collage, and folding repertoire.

For more details, go to “Spirit Works” via the home page at http://kathleenhirsch.com/.

 

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