Kathleen Hirsch | Community
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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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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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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A New Kind of Pilgrimage

I have been thinking a lot lately about pilgrimage.  And exile.  Most days, it feels as if an invading force has entered the sanctuary of all I hold dear and pitched the icons over the city walls.  For the first time in my life, my government no longer feels benign or representative.  The “business” being conducted in the corridors of power looks a lot like that of the Third World countries whose people I used to pray for as a child at the end of Sunday Mass – mass resignations, egotistical posing, saber rattling at the opposition.

I have a choice.

If I assume the mantle of exile, I am able to feel more acutely the lives of refugees who have lost country, homes, roots, stories, holy shrines.  But I trade the crucial knowledge that I can still vote, write, speak out — and yes, pay taxes.

If instead I choose to see my life and that of many friends, students, local activists – as a new kind of pilgrimage, alienation takes on the coloration hope.  And with hope comes traction.

Each day brings more news that is almost impossible to absorb into our pre-existing democratic constructs, the political discourse and open process I so recently took for granted.  Executive orders that have the affected agencies reeling in confusion, the arrest of journalists, the bullying of trade partners, the gag orders on environmental personnel.

A dear friend leaves next week for her own pilgrimage — a trek up Kilimanjaro.  She will pass through five climate zones, scaling 19,000 feet, to summit the highest peak in Africa.  She is 67 years old.

For months, she has walked every day. Where there is a steeper grade, she will take it.  Stairs, she’s there.  She has watched documentaries and read about the climb.  Now, she is starting to pack her lightweight layers, stock battery packs, choose her journal.  She will travel in a reputable tour group with skilled guides.

She reminds me of all that goes into a good pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage starts with commitment – often to something that we don’t fully understand.  It is a primer in genuine sacrifice – of conveniences, comforts, assumptions, familiar landmarks.  Easy, on an unknown trail, to fall behind; in fatigue, to forget why you started, get sick, lose time and companions, run out of food.

 

Caring for ourselves as we move into new realities will entail the kind of attention my friend is bringing to her trip.   We need a huge daily dollop of mindfulness, remembering what we love and hold dear.  We need guides, not fellow amateurs — adults who have faced similar challenges, know the trails, and the wild things we might encounter along the route.  We need trustworthy map readers, whose quiet expertise and calm under any number of conditions we can trust.

And then — and this is the hardest part — we need to admit our ignorance.  We need to know what we don’t know, and be prepared to learn things we never imagined.

The great pilgrimages were journeys of conversion, undertaken with unlikely fellow travelers.  Survival depended upon staying focused and alert to current conditions, the prevailing winds, the height of the sun, one’s own energy and resources.  The greatest danger, on mountains or on pilgrimage, is to think so exclusively about the destination that you lost track of putting one foot ahead of the other in good faith.

My personal Kilimanjaro includes loaves and fishes: safety, health, good work, educational opportunities, kindness and inclusion, and the special care of children.  But I need the voices of experience to help me figure out where to place my feet, how to listen and observe well, how expend my limited energy, to hew to the good trail.

The sky is large.

At the moment my guide is Thomas Merton, but I’m always in search of others.  If we share our journey bread, our wisdom and good will, we can get there.

Intention is everything.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Namaste.

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