Kathleen Hirsch | Writing
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Writing

Forks in the Road

Opioid addiction has been shoved off the front page by the newest study.  Risky drinking has increased massively – 30 percent — in our country in the past ten years.

No doubt you have such a story somewhere your life.   If you do, it is a very old story.  This is how it goes.

You nudge, encourage, suggest, retreat, try again.

You watch, and you try to “do something” about it.  This can go on for years.  Dysfunction becomes normalized.  You learn to live with it.  You try not to let it overwhelm the good and healthy and normal life that it threatens.  Every day.

You become a watchdog for loved ones who refuse (or are unable) to hold themselves accountable for their behaviors.

You watch the elephants in the room for so long it’s sometimes hard to see anything else.

And the public health numbers climb.  How does this happen?

Rather than swerve into the usual socio-economic analysis of the “issue,” as I prepare for a summer sojourn to a place of quiet and restoration, I’d like to ponder for a moment the spiritual fallout of this big number on everyone else  – and the possible juncture where we might look to begin, infinitesimally, to change it.

This morning I happened upon a remarkable description of what it feels like to live with the stuff one has no power to change.  It is written by a 20th century French mystic, using the Christian metaphor for ultimate suffering “the cross.”

“But on one particular day,” wrote Madeleine Delbrel, “or maybe for several years, the cross comes to us veiled and we do not recognize it.  It is veiled by something which for us hides its form, its shape, and its size.  Or it seems to be made up of monstrous parts that are totally incoherent.  Or it seems to emerge like a phony shadow from phony lighting.  Or it weighs us down and hems us in.  The mystery that it presents us with from the moment that it approaches us ‘rejects’ one vital element of our human being.”

In the cancer world, where I’m spending more time these days, people talk about everyone effected by the disease as “survivors.”  Too rarely do we extend the same compassion to those who carry the “cross” of loved ones’ “risky behaviors.”

So here’s a bit of light.  A friend recently introduced me to a great little book for cancer survivors.  It’s called, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, by Kris Carr.  Carr has lived with liver cancer for a decade, and her book is chock full of self-care tips in which survivors of all manner of disease – addiction as well as cancer — can find loads of replenishment.

It offers up good quotes, like this from John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” and from Lao-Tzu, “By letting go it all gets done.”  It tells us to take breaks, be with positive people, get playful, dress up, and to say thank you.  Obvious, but in the vice grip of risky behaviors, easily forgotten.

At some point in their lives, those I consider my healthiest friends reached a fork in their roads and made such mental checklists for themselves.  Instead of turning a blind eye to the diseases that were slowing vaporizing friends with maintenance drinking issues, or emergent drug dependencies, or eating issues — they realized that they had to detach, lovingly, or they would lose themselves.  They needed to look after their themselves too — their own promises and health and fulfillment.

The question we should be asking in the face of the new numbers isn’t, “How could this happen,” but rather, “How, despite all, can I serve life and find joy?”

I’ve reviewed enough 12-Step literature to remember the mantra, “You didn’t cause it; you can’t cure it.”  I’d like to take this one step further, in light of the latest news flash about our sorry state of affairs.  In the words of a dear friend, “Go with the good energy.”  Go where there’s life and health and creativity and play and joy.

A cross laid down becomes a fork in the road.  Not a cop-out, but a change in attitude and direction.  If we want others to take responsibility for their lives, as survivors we must do so too.

Saddle up.

 

 

 

 

 

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Colored Chalk Before It Rains

How wonderful is colored chalk?  And did you ever stop wishing you could squat down with a thick stick of bright pink or yellow or green and bring the world up to the standards of your dreams?

Children’s graffiti is always revelation.   The other day I stumbled upon a small cache of dreams right there on the asphalt of the park, by a bench that undoubtedly held a mother or some suitable female substitute, while two girls made the world a brighter and happier place.

It takes so little.

In response, I offer my own bits of wishful thinking for the start of the last precious month of meandering thoughts and bright blue moons…

Love your friends

and your friends’ children;

Be generous.

Live by grace.

Practice positive regard.

Be unstinting.

Pursue excellence.

Wear your mother’s jewelry.

Loan your favorite books.

Bring gifts back from your travels.

Dance – whenever you can!

Look those who serve you in the eye.

Be Grateful.

Listen.

Practice infinite patience.

Especially when this is hard to do.

Protect innocence.

Honor beauty.

Conduct your life as if goodness and love were the highest names for the holy

and you its nearest willing host.

Just saying…

 

 

 

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A Creative Invitation

Friends,

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)

Space is limited. Contact us to register at

 susaneporter33@yahoo.com  or  kathleenhirsch2016@gmail.com

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.

 

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Cancer brings it home (Boston Globe Op-Ed)

The Boston Globe Op Ed

By Kathleen Hirsch   July 27, 2017

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.

Kathleen Hirsch lives in Jamaica Plain and blogs at www.kathleenhirsch.com.

 

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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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