02-22-2015 | Lindsay

On an intensely cold and sunny day, in a lovely old church in Rhinebeck, (in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City), Scot and Linda watched their son Galen marry a vibrant, intelligent, and beautiful woman. A few days later, as snow fell here at Rolling Ridge, we received an email from Mary Ann about the death of five-year-old Jacii, the nephew of Mary Ann's foster daughter, Karen. He had that morning lost a long battle with leukemia. Mary Ann wrote how Jacii had loved snowmen, and the movie Frozen, and that the family had gathered at his bedside, singing a song from that movie, as he died. Later that day, Josh, Kate, Emma, Wren, and Ana made a snowman for Jacii, rolling and rolling the powdery and sparkling snow. Then they took a picture and sent it to Karen.

I've been thinking lately about courage. David Whyte notes that if you look at the root of the word "courage", it's not running under the machine-gun bullets of the enemy, wearing a headband and with bandoliers of ammunition around your neck. The word courage comes from the old French word coeur, meaning heart. Courage is the measure of our heartfelt and wholehearted participation in the world.

We humans are constantly trying to take, and are taking, courageous paths: watching as our children step into the next threshold of their lives; standing at the bedside of a dying child, singing; building a snowman with that child in mind. These instances of courage are snapshots in a broader canvas that is painted in the deep tones of vulnerability, made of our choices to be with others, in friendship, family, marriage, parenthood, community. Often, we wish, we vainly hope, that there is a way to be in relationship without the vulnerability, without having our hearts broken.

Here's the deal: There is no friendship, no matter how longstanding or deep, in which at some moment you will not disappoint and hurt your friend, or she you. There is no marriage, no matter how happy, that won't at times find you wanting. There is no way to be a good parent without your children cracking all your self-satisfaction. There is no community that hasn't come up short and failed one another. There is no way to really encounter life and not have your heart broken.

But who would choose the alternative, which is to live half a life, half-heartedly, unmoored from all that has meaning? Mary Oliver says, "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Almost five years ago, there was another wedding; this one here at Rolling Ridge, under the auburn and golden trees in front of the Lodge in October. Just as we did for Galen and Evi, we gathered to celebrate a courageous and wholehearted step, knowing full well, that despite all our love, our wisdom, our resources, our hopes, heartbreak as well as joy lay ahead. We knew this, we know it, but time and again, we leap in anyway. That day, a prose poem by Mary Oliver became the basis for a spoken word and music offering for the marrying couple:

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks - when you hear that unmistakable
pounding - when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming - then row, row for your life
toward it.

West Wind #2


Based on a reflection given at community supper on February 19, 2015.