Friday, September 15, 2017

Greetings! I'm now blogging for University Congregational United Church of Christ. Yes, it's a  mouthful which is why we always just say, "U. Cong." Although sometimes this sounds like, "Yukon." And then people then you go to church way up in the frozen North.

Here is where you'll find me:

Enjoy and don't hesitate to leave comments there.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

My biggest reason for disliking (I started to write "hating" but I don't want to be a hater) the Blue Angels is because of my friend Claude. He died of AIDS in 1992 in Bailey-Boushay here in Seattle. I spent a lot of time with Claude at the end of his life. Three days before he died he was going in and out of consciousness like dying people often do. 

I was sitting with him when the Blue Angels flew over Bailey-Boushay. He opened his eyes in terror and cried, "What is that?!" Now Claude was a deeply spiritual person and we had very open and direct conversations about dying, death and the possibility of an afterlife. 

So when I answered, "The Blue Angels," he sat up gasping in horror. 

"Angels? Are you sure? Are they coming for me?" The noise was deafening, frightening. 

I tried to explain but I had to shout over the noise which just upset Claude even more. He grasped my arm with that unexplainable strength of a dying person and shouted, "Why are you screaming?" This would have been funny if he were not so terrified, and drug addled and, well--dying. 

All I could do was lean over and hold his bony body and pat his shoulder blades that stuck out like pancake turners. "It's okay, it's okay. You are safe." 

I was glad he couldn't see me crying. I, too felt scared as if we were under attack--and of course we were--but not by the Blue Angels. 

Now every time I hear or see the Blue Angels I have that same angry/sad/ terrified reaction and have to tell myself, "It's okay, it's okay. You are safe."

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day!

Yes, it's Leap Day and I feel I should make some kind of leap--physical or metaphorical. But I'm too tired to make a physical leap. 

We just got back from a wild weekend in Los Angeles where we had a gathering of two families who were united by a wedding. Lots of staying up late and having fun--such a burden.

The wedding was between Wes's cousin's daughter Karina and a really nice man named Rickie. They were already quietly married in November on the beach in Mexico.  So this weekend was a big celebration of that small ceremony.

Friday the two families met at an Italian restaurant. There were lots of children and 20--40 year olds, so lots of crazy fun energy.

Saturday was a homey lunch for a few of us given by the the mother-of-the-bride at her place in Venice. Delicious food, beautiful weather. Everyone talked, listened and laughed. Very low-key, shorts and flip-flops. (None of the women wore the Fashion Grimace which is that pinched look you get from Spanx and high heels.) Then Saturday night was the big blow-out reception with fabulous food, drink and dancing. And grimacing. 

Not me of course. I wore completely unfashionable peep-toe, patent leather sling-back flats that I've had since 1997.

Then we caught a plane back to Seattle just in time to watch the Oscars with dear, old friends.

So where am I going with this? What is the leap? 

Well, last night I had this dream: 
I am taking a friend to show her a house. I say, “This is where I lived for a while. This is where I learned to say, ‘F**k you. I’m taking my own path. Blessings upon you.’ It’s important that you say all three." I tell her.  "You can’t just say, ‘F**k you.’ You always need to say all three, especially ‘Blessings upon you.’” 

So maybe the leap is an interpretive one about the meaning of this dream. Here goes: the first part of life, it's easy to just say, "F**k you," and leave--a job, a relationship, a living situation. 

Then we learn that instead of just running away, it's more important to move toward something, toward our own truth. Hence, "I'm taking my own path."

And finally, as we move toward our own paths, our truth, we want to leave behind nothing but love and kindness. Therefore, "Blessings upon you."

So perhaps the "leap" is that in 30 years of knowing Wes's family and our Oscar watching friends, I see that discovering our truths and our paths is an ongoing thing for everyone. It's not just the domain of newlyweds or the recent college graduates.  

But perhaps for those of us who have been around for a while, it's a little bit easier to get to, "Blessings upon you." We don't like the way it feels to just say, "F**k you." It's like an internal Fashion Grimace: we feel pinchy and pained. 

I'll write another Leap Post in four years (God willing). So let me just say, "Leap boldly. And blessings upon you."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I was literally pulled into the shop on Front Street in Lahaina, Maui.

We're here for our 30th wedding anniversary. We go to Lahaina because it's the place my mom was born and we wanted to see the Buddha at the Jodo Mission.

A beautiful young woman pulls me into a skin care shop and says, "I see wrinkles around your eyes. I can do something about that!" She proceeds to put serum around ONLY ONE EYE and then pressures my husband. "Doesn't this side look much better? Doesn't it?!"

Wes nods but when she looks away he shakes his head, "No."

It's all a scam. I look at Wes and say, "What time do we have to return to the car, Sweetheart? Ten minutes?! Oh, we must go!"

I won't even tell you the name of the store but here is my question: "What if churches did this?"

A person walks by and someone from the church offers a hand to a passerby and says, "I see wrinkles around your eyes. Would you like to come in and tell me about them?"

The person comes in. They talk about their life, their sorrows, their joys. When they leave they feel better. And maybe, just maybe, they look better. And best of all: no charge.

After the woman finally did both my eyes, she called a man whom she called "the dermatologist." Then she disappeared. I mean, she actually left the store.

Then he really pressured me about buying eye serum for three ninety-nine. That's $399.00. Almost FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Finally I said, "You know, I don't really care about wrinkles around my eyes."

In an instant he went from friendly to furious. "Well, fine!" he said.

I wish I had said to him, "Look, we came here to see the Buddha. Do you think I give a crap about wrinkles around my eyes?" But I didn't want to be rude or snarky.

But if you take one look at that Buddha you can see: either he's using that eye serum or .  .  . he doesn't care about his wrinkles and he's really at peace.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What I Used To Believe

I used to believe that if you didn’t claim that Jesus Christ was your personal Lord and Savior, then you would go to Hell. 

I used to believe in Heaven and Hell. 

I used to believe that everything in the Bible is true.

I used to believe that Jesus was this unknowable, mysterious, cranky, self-sacrificing man. Now I believe that Jesus is my wise, sassy, loving, gay brother.

I used to believe that my parents were terrible parents. Now I believe they did the best they could.

I used to believe that people who love cats were idiots. Now I believe they are simply misguided.

I used to believe that I would be best friends with my college housemate for ever and ever.

I used to believe that marriage is a trap and not for me. Now I believe that you make marriage any way you want it to be.

I used to believe that eating low fat/high carbs was good for me. Now I believe in eating low on the food chain, mostly plants, not too much. And some chocolate.

I used to believe it was wrong to be gay.

I used to believe that you should never tell anyone you color your hair.

I used to believe that I should do everything my doctor told me to do.

I used to believe that my way was the best way to do anything.

I used to believe that three for a dollar meant you had to buy three.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Tree of Possibilities

There I was with my mother in the field of St. Martin sitting on a blanket between two chairs under the Tree of Possibilities. I turned to her and asked, “Mom, how is your quality of life?”

She put her arm around me, and because this is fiction she also hugged me and kissed my cheek. Then she said, “Oh, my favorite daughter, any time I am with you the quality of my life is so fine. I am filled with love for everyone.”
 I looked up and noticed that the branch from which I had plucked this possibility actually looked a bit diseased.  A little twisted. So perhaps the fruit from this branch was not really a possibility but a shriveled fantasy.
Nevertheless, it was pleasant sitting there with her, our picnic basket filled with fruit and salami and cheese and bread. On the other chair sat our cooler with cold white wine. Since dad was not there, she could have a glass of wine without worrying that he would drink most of the bottle.
Wine in the middle of the day always makes both of sleepy, so we feel asleep in the middle of her explaining her recent painting.
When I awoke she was gone so I got busy writing my new book. Now that I am fluent in French I discovered that I think about things differently. Jokes are different because the adjective goes after the noun. How can you call someone a no-good two-bit lily-livered weasel-eating bastard when you have to say “bastard” first and then “no-good two-bit lily-livered weasel-eating?” 

It kind of loses something.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The name of this horse is Junior. His owner told me he has a big fancy name but she just calls him Junior. He is boarded on the farm that is about a quarter mile from our house. He appears on this blog because I was watching him a few weeks ago and I experienced pure Joy.

Junior loves to play with that red ball. He chases it around the field and then picks it up in his mouth and shakes it--just like a dog would. Sometimes he drops it and then dances around it as if expecting it to make a sudden move.

I was rooted to the spot just watching him with the biggest horse-poop-eating grin on my face. For a brief moment he looked up at me then he gave a sort of cocky horse grin and kicked the ball down the field and charged after it.

David Beckham beware. You got nothin' on Junior.

Junior is nineteen years old. I don't know how old that is in human years, but I want to be like Junior always: having moments of pure Joy and sharing them with everyone.

Monday, December 15, 2014

May you find joy and hope in this season of Darkness and Light. An excerpt from It's Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer:


        I was just completing my first year of being off chemo. But there were all kinds of beginnings and endings happening around me. Lisa had completed the last possible treatment for her cancer. We were now giving her palliative care: packed red blood cells, platelets, hydration. We referred to this as the, “red wine, white wine, water,” regimen. She had already had hospice come in and do an initial assessment with her.  She cut off her long hair before it all fell out and had a wig made that looked perfectly natural—until now.  She had lost so much weight that it perched on her head like a little blonde nest.
            If it had been any other patient in this situation, I would never have mentioned that I was coming up on my chemo anniversary. But I had known Lisa for several years and knew she would celebrate with me.
            I knocked and slid open the door to her room. I was surprised to see that she was fast asleep and even more surprised to see that she was not wearing her wig. A soft knitted cap covered her head. I was just backing out her room when she opened one of her eyes, lifted her hand and gave me a little smile.
            “Come in,” she said softly. “I have a question for you.”
            I gelled my hands. That was our policy at the clinic: “Gel in, gel out.” It was like rubbing clean smelling slime on your hands. Or blowing your nose without a Kleenex. Or shaking hands with a slug. You get the picture.
            Lisa and I always joked about this because everyone who stands there rubbing his or her hands together looks like some mad scientist eager to inflict some horrendous pain. The unfortunate thing about this is that we both thought that at times, it was true.
            So I rubbed my hands together and said in my best Transylvanian accent, “Yes, my darling. What is your question before I stick the electrodes on your eyeballs?”
            “The hospice nurses come in every couple of days. But at the end, don’t you think they should be there all time, because what if I fall out of bed?”
            I kept rubbing my hands together way after the gel had evaporated. I grabbed a rolling stool from the corner of the room and sat down. Then I lowered the seat and cleared my throat. I bought myself about fifteen seconds doing all of this.
            “You won’t fall out of bed at the end,” I said.
            “How do you know?”
            “You won’t have enough energy. You barely have enough energy to go to the bathroom now, right?”
            “Well, at the end, most people don’t have a lot of energy and they usually go into a coma. If you’re in a coma, you’re not jumping around and you won’t fall out of bed. ”
            I rolled up close to the bed and took her hand. “If you’re really afraid of that, you can have someone stay in the room with you.”  She didn’t say anything for a long time, just lay there gripping my hand. I saw that she was getting the “white wine” today.
            Finally she said, “I told my daughter that Mommy is probably going to die from the cancer.”
            “What did she say?”
            “She said, ‘I don’t’ want you to die, Mommy. What if I have a problem and need to ask you a question?’ I told her, ‘When you have a question, all you have to do is get very, very quiet and very, very still and ask your question. Then being as still and as quiet as you can be listen very carefully and Mommy and God will give you an answer. And as you get older, when you very quiet and very still, you will hear your own voice.’”
            Here it was December and I had seen parents feverishly shopping and buying their children all kinds of toys and games and books and clothes. How many parents had thought of giving their children the gift of learning how to listen to God and listen to their own voice? Because I was fighting back tears, my voice was sort of thick when I said, “What an incredible gift you’ve given her.”           
            “Thank you. “
            Get very still and get very quiet. I felt as if I spent most of my time as a chaplain telling people to check in with their breath, to quiet themselves, to listen. What if we all had learned to do this as children? Maybe I’d be out of a job.
             There are times when I feel as if I am in the presence of some kind of Higher Being. That afternoon with Lisa I felt like that. She was thoughtful and filled with peace. I know that some people who work with energy say that energy is just energy. Period. But I disagree. I’ve been with people whose energy felt scattered or chaotic or nervous. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics. But Lisa’s energy felt divine and I wanted to sit there and bask in it.
            Then she said, “It’s wonderful to sit in the silence with you.”
            It’s wonderful to sit in the silence with you. The words wrapped around me in that way I recognized as Spirit speaking. We sat for quite a long time holding hands in the silence and I didn’t tell her about my chemo anniversary.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Humbled. Again.

While we were in Washington, D.C. for the TEDMED shebang, we needed someone to take care of Max our Cairn terrier. Our 10 year-old dear friend and neighbor E. offered to do it. He did a great job. I could tell because Max didn't want to stay here--he kept running over there. Excellent!

To thank E. I decided to bake an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies just for him. He could do whatever he wanted with them. The letter below explains what happened.

18 septembre 2014

Dear E. 

            I made and wrote out your thank-you card before I made these cookies for you. I feel that I must write a letter of explanation because they are absolutely hideous but they taste pretty good.
            One of the reasons I’m giving you the cookies just the way they are is to model for you that failure is hard, but the important thing is that I tried. I will tell you that I am a very good cook. Chocolate chip cookies are my specialty. So I was horrified to see the nuclear meltdown that came out of that oven.
            But here’s the most important thing for you to know: as I was walking to the Migros Supermarché to buy ingredients, and as I was making the dough, and as I was making the cookies I was thinking about you and what a wonderful person you are and how I hope this year is one of your best and how grateful I am that you like Max and he likes you and that you took such good care of him. I was hoping that you find your passion and enjoy your life and do well in whatever you choose to do.
            This is important because it was like saying a little Cooking Prayer of gratitude and blessings for you—for almost an entire day!
            I would like to blame this cookie disaster on the fact that I couldn’t find real brown sugar nor could I find chocolate chips but perhaps the real reason is that I was supposed to write you this letter.
            Included are photos of the different ways I tried to make these cookies right: a different pan, parchment paper on the pan and a lower temperature. I hope you are amused. Thanks again. 

He thanked me profusely.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hanging Around With New Friends

As a child I had certain friends that my parents just did not like. There were two girls in particular. "You get up to no good when you are with them," my mother said. I couldn't deny it. I was just a better kid when I hung around with my other friends.

This is true even if you are an adult  which is why people in recovery from drugs and alcohol are encouraged to make new friends. Who you hang with affects you.

So there I was at the Washington, D.C. TEDMED conference. So many people there using their intelligence, their creativity, their energy and in some cases their own money to make the world a better place. "Create." "Improve." "Solve." These are words I heard over and over.

Just like when I was a kid, this mind set started to rub off on me.  I started thinking more about how to leave the world a better place. What can I create, improve or solve that would make a difference?

People at TEDMED are doing this in a big, obvious way: airbags to prevent hip fractures, new kinds of skin grafting, toys to help disabled children become mobile. These are all great things. But not all of us can do that kind of stuff, right?

Mother Teresa (who I'm pretty sure would be invited to do a TED talk if she weren't dead) said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I believe this is where true transformation occurs for both the receiver and the giver: doing small things with great love. When we do anything with great love we are transformed.

Any of these TEDMED speakers will tell you that their work is not only transformational for the world, but for themselves--because they do it with great love.

And you pretty much have to love it when you put that much time into it. I say this both as a hospital chaplain and as a writer and as a TEDMED speaker. It's just too damn hard unless you love it.

So what about you? What small thing are you going to do today with great love? How will you be transformed?

My TEDMED talk, September 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why I Haven't Posted

How can anyone be miserable in beautiful, enchanted Switzerland? I mean, c'mon! But I have been and here's why: despite spending the last year taking college courses in French and then a three-week intensive course at the University of Geneva, I can't understand a thing anybody is saying. Lesson: just because you can read The Little Prince in French doesn't mean you can parlez français.

I was bitterly--and I do mean bitterly--disappointed.

The intensive course was six hours a day. I understood about 25% of what the instructor said. I hated it. Yes, "hate" is a strong word--but not strong enough. Every morning I would lie in bed and loudly groan for a full minute before I got up. I'm sure our neighbors (with whom we share a wall) thought we were having extremely hot sex every morning. I swear they started looking at me differently.

Because I couldn't communicate, in no time I turned into an insecure, fearful, introvert.  I had to ask myself, "Who am I?" Yes, you can spend your whole life pondering this existential question. In the mean time, someone has to buy groceries.

But here's what happens when you can't read the labels:

--You and your husband wash your hair with conditioner for an entire week resulting in a Greaser Look that is not flattering to either of you.
--You serve your guests what you think is a grilled veal sausage but it's really some form of cooked pasta that is now hard and dry. When your guest asks to read the package you cover your embarrassment with another glass of wine.
--You ruin a colored load of laundry because you think think 60º is Fahrenheit and not Centigrade.

Military time, centimeters, centigrade, grams, kilograms: exquisite and insidious forms of torture. Scene in the Farmer's Market:

Seller: Vous bxln tqupr cnxz?
Me: (assuming he's asking how many little containers I want) Deux!
Seller: Vxbdureteaux?
Me: (panicking) Oui, oui!

I watch in horror as he bags two kilos (four pounds) of olives. I hand over the money and then go have a glass of wine.

So I've been miserable for two and half months and then yesterday I decided to be happy.
What?! Decide to be happy?
 Seriously. Here's what I've learned--and as with many spiritual truths it's counterintuitive--there will be no external change until there is an internal change. 

I know, I know our culture teaches us differently: "If only I had x, y and z, then I would be happy." But I know better than that. I also know that I have to feel my feelings (frustration, anger, sadness, depression), give them a voice, ("I hate it here!") and then move on (I'm deciding to be happy).

So that's why I haven't posted. If you're in town be sure to stop by. We'll give you a glass of wine. And some olives.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Here's what I want to say about moving: it's kind of like being terminally ill. The closer you get to leaving, the choosier you are about how you spend your time and with whom.

Change of Metaphor

We leave for Switzerland June 28th and I feel as if I jumped out of an airplane and have been happily free falling for awhile but now the ground is rushing up at me and it's time to pull the rip cord, i.e. get serious about packing up the house.

I can't pack everything now because we are still living in the house. But it's not too early to clear the closet and the drawers in the guest room. We don't live in there, right?


But clearing out the drawers meaning packing my fabric to store in the basement which means cleaning out the basement to make room for the fabric. Cleaning out the basement--well,  you know what that means. 

Seventh Circle of Hell.

Fortunately our renters told us not to worry about the books in the bookshelves. "Just leave them," they said. That is a relief and they will have a year to bone up on death, dying, spirituality, energy work, parasitic diseases, screenwriting, biblical history and kombucha making.

Then there is the issue of getting Mr. Max re-chipped and vaccinated in triplicate in two foreign languages and making sure he has passed AP English, obedience training and knows his times tables. Yes, I am talking about our dog.

More later about all of this craziness. And I haven't even said a word about my third quarter of French. Please visualize me fluently speaking French. So far it is nothing but a dream .  .  .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Strength For the Journey

Yesterday a friend of mine was grousing about how bad Christmas is—the expectation that we are all supposed to be merry and happy and jolly.

But true followers of Jesus know that Christmas is not about happiness. It’s about waiting. It’s about a long, hard journey.  It’s about fear and being rejected. And ultimately it’s about finding Light.

The Christmas story that’s all about cozy families, caroling and giving gifts? That’s the Madison Avenue story, the retailer’s story. That’s the Target, Macy’s, Amazon story.

If you read the actual Christmas story you know it’s a story about struggle: finding out your fiancée is pregnant (and not by you). It’s about hearing that your son is supposed to bring healing to a broken world (WTF? I just want him to go to college, get married and have kids.). It’s about giving birth in a filthy manger. And it’s about strangers approaching your newborn.

Does any of that sound happy and jolly?

I know, I know, what about the angels? They’re a small part of the story. There’s one at the beginning to say, “Hi, you’re pregnant and God is the father.” And of course Joseph gets one in a dream to say, “Mary is not some slut and you should really marry her.” But that’s it for Joseph and Mary. They don’t get any more angels.

The shepherds get a boatload of angels to give them traveling directions. But that’s it. Those pictures of angels surrounding the manger? I don’t think so. Read the book.

I  really don’t take the Bible literally. The Christmas story is most powerful as a metaphor for a difficult journey at the end of which—impossible though it may seem—we find the Light.

We need Light for our broken lives. For our confusion, our grief, our anger, for all the crap in our lives that makes us say, “It’s just too damn hard.”

Make no mistake: finding the Light isn’t usually happy or jolly or merry. Because sometimes the Light shows us what jerks we’ve been or how we’ve made our own misery.

But as painful as that realization is—what a gift!  Because of the Light we can see a different path. Then we have to make a choice. Choice—another gift!

That means that Christmas happens all year long because we’re constantly embarking on new and difficult journeys. 

So let me end by saying, “Strength to you on your Christmas journey and may it be Light.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Some Sentences About Crime

Today I attended the sentencing of the man, whom I'll refer to as Mr. Criminal, who broke into our house and took my two computers. To my shock he is only twenty years old. He shuffled in wearing hand cuffs, an orange jumpsuit and those hideous plastic shower slippers in which one can do nothing but shuffle.

My other shock was that he was being sentenced for two others thefts besides mine, one of which was stealing firearms and selling them. That is bad. Very bad.

Escorting him was a portly police officer who couldn't outrun a snail but could probably do a great job blocking and tackling. I was thinking about this since they took the handcuffs off Mr. Criminal. He had flame tattoos around both wrists.

The Judge, a very attractive, classy and dignified woman asked me to read my letter. I read:

" Dear Judge, 

I have not yet been able to afford to replace all my computer equipment, but hopefully will be able to do that soon.

What I will never be able to replace are two years of essays, sermons, unfinished book manuscripts and photos—particularly those of my father’s 90th birthday celebration.  Yes, I have learned the hard way about backing up computer files.

As sickening as it was to lose those things, it was even more devastating to lose my sense of safety and security in my own home.  Our doors and windows were locked. Our burglar alarm was on. When I asked the police officer what else we could have done to prevent this burglary, he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said, “Not a thing.”

He agreed that if we did not have a burglar alarm, they would have cleaned us out.

So even now, five months later, I sit up in bed if I hear anything in the middle of the night.  I don’t go back to sleep for a long time. I lock up the house and carry a key when I’m watering the yard. I don’t  even shower with the bathroom window open.

I can’t pretend to know the life circumstances of Mr. Criminal (and whoever else accompanied him) that lead to this crime. But I do know that it was wrong and it matters. Stealing not only robs the victim but also robs the thief of self-respect, dignity and self-worth.

My hope is that Mr. Criminal will regain these things but I suspect it will take him longer to do so than it takes me to replace my computers."

His attorney then explained that Mr. Criminal committed his crimes because his father died when he was fifteen and to cope he started taking drugs. So now he had to steal to support his drug habit. The Judge said nothing.

Mr. Criminal and I looked at one another several times. His glances at me were furtive, but I looked at him a long time because I wanted him to understand that you steal from a person, not from an inanimate object such as a house or a car. (He has a record of car burglaries too.) 

The Judge then asked if Mr. Criminal wanted to say anything. He did.

"I'm sorry to Ms. Jarvis," said.

This was a very wise thing to do considering the judge was just about to sentence him.

She gave him ninety months. The minimum. She urged him to continue his education in prison. They handcuffed him again and lead him out.

And that was that.

I took the bus home and of course stopped at Bartell Drugs to buy chocolate. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but my favorite: Hershey's Mint Truffle Kisses. On Sale! What a great day!

So why then, amid the overhead Christmas music, aisles of decorations and laden with chocolate did I start sobbing?

I had to fumble in my bag for a tissue hoping it didn't look like I was shop lifting because what if I was wrongly convicted and had to appear before that same judge. How weird would that be?

This kid is only twenty. What a waste of life--to spend the next seven and a half years in prison.

Twenty minutes later I arrived home to hear about this shooting at Arapahoe high school in Colorado. Where did that kid buy that gun?

Probably from someone like Mr. Criminal!

Seven and a half years isn't nearly enough.