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Archive for the ‘Personal reflection’ Category

The Swinging Door of the Year

The Swinging Door of the Year
SBC in GSC door

Unintended Selfie in my Great-grandparents’ front door, 28 Mt. Vernon St, Boston (the door plate reads GS Curtis)

For the past few days I’ve been thinking about the turn of the year as a swinging door–the kind of door that swings both ways, as, for example, between a restaurant’s kitchen and seating area. I’m not sure why I was thinking about traffic passing in two directions–to and fro–as in that Rumi poem about waking at dawn:

“People are going back and forth/across the doorsill where the two worlds touch./ The door is round and open./Don’t go back to sleep!”

Time as we understand it doesn’t move in both directions. The past–last year, yesterday, even last minute!–is behind us; the future is ahead. In that sense, the door between 2015 and 2016 has now opened and closed; we have passed through, and the door cannot be reopened.

Ah, but memory allows us to travel backwards! Memory is our boat, or the moving water beneath our boats, and memory can take us back to people, places, events, worlds, even if not with utterly reliable accuracy.

Perhaps, then, the door between one year and the next is more like a one-way-travel door with a window in it. Even from the new side of the door, it’s possible to look back through the window, to remember and reflect on where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, who has loved us (and who has left us), whom we have loved and whom we’ve lost; our decisions, choices, turns, detours, failures and triumphs (two categories that sound deceptively distinct but often closely overlap!).

These days just before and after New Year’s feel precious–a rare moment of culturally sanctioned reflection. (Though how one is expected to pause and reflect meaningfully in a fog of booze and loud public celebration, I haven’t got a clue!)

The door of the year may be shut, but I plan to enjoy peering back through its window a while before I throw myself headlong into 2016. And you?

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Making Pancakes with my Dad

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“Making Pancakes with my Dad,” oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2014

“It says here, ‘Beat two eggs,'” my dad would say, reading the box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

And then he would take the two eggs, place them still in their shells into the mixing bowl, and raise the wooden spoon (or was it an old-fashioned hand-cranked egg beater?) as if he planned to beat the eggs, shell and all.

“No, no!” my sister and I would cry in horror, or mock horror, depending on whether this was the first time or the fifteenth time he had tried this game. “You have to crack the eggs first before you beat them!”

I suppose there came a time when I was too old and too smart and too sophisticated to play along, when this game was met with rolled eyes or disdainful silence. But I don’t remember that part of the story.

Only the pleasures of being a little kid in the kitchen on a Saturday morning making pancakes with my Dad.

I didn’t set out to paint this scene or story. The title of the painting came to me after the painting was under way. It may have arisen from that pink spatula-like shape (a repeat visitor from the painting, “Islesford Kitchen”–see below). Or perhaps it was the three irregular circles, the two on the right running together like uncooperative pancake batter.

It doesn’t really matter. What matters most to me is that the painting carries some of the pleasure of remembering–morning sunlight, a playful mood, and soon warm pancakes ready to be eaten.

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“Islesford Kitchen,” oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2013

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Skylight View

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Sketchbook page: watercolor pencil, oil pastel June 13, 2015

Morning by morning

my skylight teaches me this–

clouds never stay put.*

 

*Except when they do, or seem to, as on an overcast day when the sky seems “stuck.”

But on other days–days of clearing winds, for instance–the view through the skylight near my desk is constantly changing. The light and shadow in the treetops that frame the lower portions sharpen and blur, sharpen and blur, repeatedly. And the hues of green change with them.

And the clouds! Sometimes they meander across more or less horizontally. Sometimes they race from top to bottom of my view, traveling more or less in a southerly direction, I think.

Clouds shape-shift. Thin clouds seem to evaporate or grow so thin and so distant as to disappear.

Other days everything moves much more slowly. Imperceptible movement within a field of uniformly pale grey. Not my favorite days, those “stuck days.”

But then, we don’t get to choose the weather, do we?

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Blue Laundry/Laundry Blues?

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My daughters tell me

I wear too much blue clothing.

Hmm–what do you think?

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Richard Pelham Curtis–100 Years

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Richard Pelham Curtis, on a boat, c. 1940?

 

Today, June 1, 2015 would be my father’s one hundredth birthday, if he were still alive.

And it would have been my parents’ seventy-fifth wedding anniversary! My father sometimes said he got married on his twenty-fifth birthday so that he’d be less likely to forget his anniversary.

In honor of my dad, I am resurrecting and reworking a post from my former blog (which can still be found at Trusting Delight). That post was titled “Ten Random Things about My Dad,” though it covered a lot more than ten things.

Perhaps if my memories really started to flow, I could get close to one hundred random things about my dad–at least if I were to count every little individual fact.

1. My father, whose name was Richard Pelham Curtis, was born on June 1, 1915 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. (For example, that’s three facts right there: name, birthdate, birthplace!)

2. He was the youngest child of Greely Stevenson Curtis and Fanny Hooper Curtis. His older siblings were Greely, my Uncle Greely, and Fanny, my Auntie Fin; his sister “Maisie,” Marian Adams Curtis, died quite young.

3. Dad, who was called “Dick” by most of his friends, was born at his parents’ home overlooking Marblehead Harbor on “Gilbert Heights,” perhaps a half a mile from the house in which my siblings and I grew up and in which Dad died.

Other than years spent at boarding school and college, I don’t think Dad ever lived anywhere but in Marblehead. Marblehead was unquestionably his home.

4. My father whistled and hummed. A lot. His whistling was quite pleasant to listen to. He often “whistled while he worked,” perhaps even unconscious of doing so, and sometimes whistled while he walked, did errands, and such.

His humming was another thing entirely! I think of Dad’s humming rather fondly, but I know it could be rather annoying to live with. It was a “hum with an edge,” a sort of sharp droning tone not unlike a bagpipe’s drone, created as he simultaneously hummed and chewed his tongue. Our neighbors on the small dead-end street where we lived knew my father’s hum quite well. I’m sure they could hear him humming around the yard doing chores.

5. Dad loved to sail, even lived to sail! Sailing was for him about relaxing, being on the water, maybe getting some place, but usually going where the wind and tide would allow (and hopefully also allow getting home before the wind would drop, or fog or bad weather set in).

Sometimes in summer when the days were long, he’d go sailing after dinner after a day at work on the far side of Boston. He tolerated a long commute to and from work, in order to live by the water. An after-dinner evening sail might become a moonlight sail, and then a moonlit drift, as the wind often dies in the evening.

6. Photos of my dad as a young boy often feature sail boats. In one he is holding a model sailboat in his hands. (He is also wearing a sailor suit, as is his older sister–clearly a fashionable item around 1920!) In another photo he crouches by the edge of Red’s Pond in Marblehead, his father behind him, as he launches a model boat (the same one?) into the pond.

In yet another photo, my dad, my aunt, and my grandfather (whom I never knew–he died in 1947) stand in a boat beside the stone pier of a local boatyard. They are either just launching or about to haul it out.

7. Like me, my father was the youngest child in his family. I don’t remember we ever talked about both being “youngests,” but I think it about it now. I also shared his blue eye color (along with my brother David).

Although most people have always told me I look a lot like my mother, and I too see that resemblance, as I get older I see more of my father in my face. This photo of me, taken in 2011, startled me with its likeness to my father’s face. (My sister said she thought the likeness was the baggy sweater, but I think it’s in my face. What do you think?)

 

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Yours truly, Sukie Curtis, Maine, 2011

8. Dad played games with us when we were small children–I remember bouncing on my dad’s knees as he sang, “Trot, trot to Boston” and “This is the way the ladies ride.” Later, card games (“Oh Hell” and Hearts) and board games, like Clue.

9. At bedtime, my mother would sing a song, “Teera, leera, leera in the spring” it begins, and my dad would sing “Day is done.” And he would say the Lord’s Prayer and close with a list of blessings.

10. The blessings were always the same, and in the same order: “God bless Mummy and Daddy and Dickie (my parents’ first child, who died before I was born) and David and Jonny and Peggy and Sukie and everybody.”

Amen.

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Two Paintings, Two Haiku

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Surprised to Come Upon Roses, oil on canvas

Mornings come and go–

the cardinal’s liquid song

announces this one.

 

Above and Beneath, oil on canvas

Above and Beneath, oil on canvas

Salt tang in the fog–

the grey-green dampness dripping–

the red bird redder.

 

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These two paintings were painted long ago (the first, late last year? the second, almost two years ago). I wrote the two haiku this morning.

And then it occurred to me that they make an interesting pairing of words and images.

The two paintings are currently part of the show, “Abstract,” hanging at River Arts in Damariscotta, Maine through June 25. If you’re heading through mid-coast Maine, stop in to see a large and interesting mix of pieces spread through several rooms.

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On Baptism, Breastplates, and Amulets

pictishwarrior  Forty years ago today I was baptized at the age of twenty (almost twenty-one). I dare say that this was not exactly what most of my Trinity College peers were up to that late Thursday evening! On April 24, 1975 Bishop Morgan Porteous, then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut came to the Trinity College Chapel to baptize and confirm me, with my mother, father, and sister and lots of friends in attendance. (He later ordained me a deacon as well!)

I still remember quite a bit about that evening. In those days there was a weekly Thursday evening Eucharist (at 9:30? 10 pm?), when some weeks it was clear that the Chaplain had had too much to drink. His sermons would be extra long and rambling, and we students rolled our eyes at one another at being somewhat trapped in the small Crypt Chapel as the Chaplain droned on, not making total sense. But on this occasion with the Bishop present to preach and preside, the Chaplain was in decent shape.

What I remember most about the occasion are these three things: first, how the Bishop wove the liturgical drama of baptism together with the impressive architecture of the chapel (designed in the same English Gothic style and by the same architect as Washington Cathedral, on a smaller scale, though still quite grand for a college chapel). The death-to-new-life movement of baptism was echoed by our beginning in the small, underground Crypt Chapel, then processing upstairs and through a small outside cloister, like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, into the main nave of the chapel with its high Gothic arches, stained glass windows, carved wooden pews facing one another “collegiate style,” and a large pipe organ for robust hymn-singing!

The baptismal font was located toward the back (west end) of the chapel outside a small chapel known as the Friendship Chapel, and I remember the Bishop remarking on the importance of friends and community for each of us endeavoring to live a life of faith, hope and love.

The second thing I remember happened there at the baptismal font, when the Bishop posed to me the questions for candidates for baptism. (They now appear in the Book of Common Prayer liturgy for baptism, but back then I believe we were using the “Green Book,” one of the steps along the way of liturgical reform back then.)

I remember being very aware that I had freedom and power to choose how to answer those questions for myself–that I could have, at the last minute, said “No” when the Bishop asked if I desired to be baptized! It was a moment of dizzying autonomy–probably the clearest, most public decision I had ever made that set me apart from my family of origin (and our Unitarian upbringing).

The third thing I remember is singing the hymn known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” now hymn 370 in the Episcopal Church’s Hymnal 1982. I believe we sang it in sections as we moved from place to place in the chapel, arriving finally before the altar for the Eucharist.

The text of the hymn is a translation of words traditionally attributed to St. Patrick himself, although many now believe the words are from 8th century Ireland rather than the 4th to 5th centuries when Patrick lived. It has always been a favorite hymn of mine, and many years later, it became part of our family ritual to sing the sixth verse (unusual in that it is sung to a completely different tune and in a different key from the rest of the hymn!) to Bekah and Anna at bedtime:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The idea of the “breastplate,” also known as a “lorica” from a Latin word for “body armor,” reflects an early Christian monastic tradition of reciting specific prayers for protection, not unlike the idea of wearing an amulet, a small piece of jewelry thought to give mystical protection against danger, evil, or disease. (I have a feeling that traditions of protective prayers and  protective jewelry are found in many different cultures and religions.)

David and I bought the piece of jewelry pictured in the photo above in Doolin, County Clare, Ireland in 2005. It was David especially who was taken by the little warrior–we were told he (she?) was a “Pictish” warrior, rather than a Celtic warrior. (I’m not sure how they differ, other than I think the Picts may have preceded the Celts in Ireland.)

At the time I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a depiction of someone clearly ready for doing battle! But now I find myself drawn to my silver warrior as if he/she were indeed some sort of amulet, with mystical powers of protection together with the power of truth-telling. I’d like to think he/she gives me courage to live bravely, compassionately, and honestly.

 

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Flowers for Lent?

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Tall Pink Tulips, ©Sukie Curtis 2015

I was reminded recently by a friend that back in my “preacher days” (I was an Episcopal priest for 24 years), I gave a sermon once, if not more than once, about how the season of Lent doesn’t have to be about “giving something up” as many of us have been taught. It can be about taking on some new practice, especially something life-giving to your body, mind and/or spirit.

I remember clearly the first time I “dared” to break with the fasting/self-denial tradition and do something different for Lent. I should say, I remember precisely what I chose to do–go see a movie each week during Lent–and where I was–in Clarksdale, Mississippi where I was first Associate Rector, then “Priest in charge” of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

Two films I remember seeing during that Lent were “The Killing Fields,” and “Witness,” so a little online research suggests the year was 1985. It’s likely that in subsequent years I shared my experience in sermons in Foxboro and Concord, Massachusetts, and eventually at St. Bartholomew’s in Yarmouth, Maine, where my friend Jamie heard it and remembers it still.

All of this is a long way of saying that, although I’ve actually made a low-fanfare agreement with myself to write an hour a day during Lent, I might also be happy to “take on” buying a fresh bunch of flowers every week during Lent!

Sometimes I buy flowers with the “excuse” that they are models for painting. But why not buy flowers for the delight and encouragement they give to our winter-weary spirits? As bursts of color amid this winter’s very, very white landscape? As reminders to practice gratitude and compassion? Or as inspiration for your soul’s free-flowing contemplation of the beauty and mystery of the natural world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Goes Around . . .

Kintsugi

I had to look back at my previous posts to remember when I wrote about the broken pot mended with gold and the Japanese aesthetic and artistic practice called Kintsugi, or “golden joinery.” It was, appropriately, on New Year’s Day.

I say “appropriately on New Year’s Day” because the challenge and the calling that I perceived in that image and articulated in that post are still with me, like a guiding metaphor for my whole year. Or at least until I have “used it up,” having done what I needed to do.

That could take me less than a year, or it could be the continuing work of a lifetime–who’s to say? The answer will only become clear in time, and in living into and trusting this guiding metaphor.

Here’s what I wrote about it back on January 1:

“It seems to be calling me to a more complete and more compassionate embrace of my whole life thus far–to take time to look back with clearer eyes, perhaps especially to look again at the broken places, the relationships and experiences still kept in the shadows, tinged with shame or grief, and to bring them out into fresh air and light.

Some day soon I hope to stand more gracefully as my whole self, holding my life in my hands as a beautifully broken and mended pot, trusting in the value and the gift in all of it.”

Fresh air and light.

Fresh air and light are abundant on this February day, the day after the blizzard that fizzled (the low pressure center went far south of its predicted path, radically reducing snowfall totals where we live, though others were not so fortunate).

And little by little (and some days, not-so-little by not-so-little!) I have been dragging things out from the basement shadows and into the light and air where compassion and forgiveness and self-acceptance become possible.

Along the way, thoughts and words expressed by others find their way to me and cheer me along, increasing my hope and courage. It’s lovely how that happens, isn’t it?

As I write more fully about this journey in days and weeks ahead, I will do so in hope that what I write might in turn help someone else along their way.

 

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