Monday, December 26, 2016

Next Book Now!


Dear Family and Friends,

I welcome this joyous Christmas season which invites us to catch up a little with each other and our lives. And, during this divisive, even frightening time after the election – more than ever. There is so much more I’d want to say about the aftermath of this toxic election, but I’m grateful that one of my friends has already given honest and poignant expression to it in his own Christmas letter. He told me it’s a Christmas letter it took him three days to write. Francis knew this friend I’m referring to – Dominican, Brother Joseph Kilikevice OP, who, living in Oak Park, Illinois, has been my mentor in the Dances of Universal Peace since 1999. Francis and I even sponsored his coming to Portland years ago when he led a weekend retreat in The Lord’s Prayer, chanted in Aramaic. In any case, because Brother Joseph’s letter expresses what I want to say – before I sign off, I’m attaching his letter to mine.

Last Christmas I quoted for you these lines from my poem “THE HARVEST IS IN”: “Why am I crying / “Joy and thanksgiving!”? / It’s my lot / to leave our legacy of love – (Francis’s and mine) / in poems and prose: three books in five year,/ since he died.”

By now, close to seven years since then, it’s not surprising they still resonate with me: because I have another book in the works! But, here’s a relevant aside: When I heard what a Parisian said, when interviewed on TV this fall, one year after the Paris attacks, I jotted down his words: “I wrote a book,” he said. “Writing puts distance between my pain and me.” Simply in the way I immediately reached for pen and paper, then read and reread them, pondering – it’s evident there’s some truth for me in his expression. But, as my quoted poem notes in pointing out the subject and purpose of my writing: “to leave our legacy of love / (Francis’s and mine)/ ” – that makes the difference! That explains the joy.

In my March 31, 2016 letter “My Next Two Books – No April Fool Joke,” (It’s posted here: http://elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com/) I went into detail about my fourth book, A Friend Who Knows the Tone. But I didn’t say much about the second one, except to announce that I was ready now to take up again the book which I had started, but set aside. I had originally entitled it: “THIS NEW LIFE - Selections from A Widow's Journal.”

By now, however, Christmastime 2016, even though I still plan to use selections from my journal since Francis died, I have a new title and even a new angle for this fifth book: “A Widow Traces Life’s Arc of Love.” As I told a friend, recently: “One of the side things I’d like to do in this book (in the “Tracing,” if I can) is to share (with a secular culture) how what is called the “communion of saints” helped me – wholly spontaneously too, after Francis died. And I can’t believe how much energy is behind it.”

But I’ve had to work at being patient about what has felt like multiple distractions pulling me away from writing time as much as I want. The groundwork for that book has been completed. But recently, just as it’s calling me more and more, besides the distraction of the election, my attention has also been taken up with supporting our indigenous brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. Posting select articles on my Facebook page has somehow helped me deal with these events. And they seem to have helped others also, including former Thornton Academy students, among other friends from the past. For example, after I posted Brother Joseph’s Christmas letter on my FB page, people responded, in essence, with: “Thank you - this helps”!

Here, though, has been the biggest distraction of all: Ever since thick mud seeped into my cellar after a heavy rainstorm, in the fall of 2015, I’ve been necessarily overseeing months and months of work repairing the foundation of my 115 year old house. To say the least, it hasn’t been easy to put up with interminable delays, some of them due to outside complications. But, blessedly, finally – as of December 12 – that major job has been completed! Yay!

To pay for it, I’ve had to dig deep into my savings. Of course it was also necessary repair for my own sake. No more moldy smelling insulation underneath the floor of my bedroom now – not since that modern styled insulation that mice can’t get into has replaced it! I had to vacate the house with my sweet cat Bella for 24 hours until it dried. By then, no toxic fumes. (Luckily Bella and I stayed overnight at Lynn, Lee and Rowan’s house in Portland which is used as an Air BnB since they moved to New Jersey where Lee teaches at Rutgers University.)

But through it all, this year+long house repair job – what was on my mind more than anything else, was the awareness that my goddaughter Rowan will be inheriting this house. That made the challenge to see this project through to conclusion more than worthwhile. It’s my great pleasure and joy that in her, Francis and I (who had no children of our own) have an heir for this sweet bungalow house, now restored.

This isn’t a recent idea, either , Rowan’s inheriting the house (which also happens to be, since 2008, a permaculture demonstration site). It’s a site Francis and I, with some help, created together . . . (Further digression: Someone told me: “The permaculture is a living legacy of Francis.”). I expressed this house inheritance idea on page 139 of my second book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU - A Love Story. In the section entitled “Permaculture for Rowan and Family”, I wrote: “‘All this,’ I told myself and Francis as we worked, ‘is for Rowan.’ It was for her sake we got our first chicks in the summer of 2009, in time for her fifth birthday. . . . ” (Yes – on page 139)

Rowan was 18 months old when Francis and I started doing child care for her once a week. (She’s now 12 going on 13.) I’d pick her up from school, bring her to our home, let her play with the chickens etc., read some books with her sitting on my lap, then feed her supper until her mother, Lynn, picked her up. The fact that some of Rowan’s childhood memories were created here – picking fruits from the orchard, watching frogs in the pond etc., adds to our joy – her parents’ and mine, as well.

One of the highlights of my year was having a “Permablitz” held here on November 5, that is – renovation work done by the Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup, which Francis and I joined in 2006, the year after it was founded, in 2005. Also known now as “the Resilience Hub,” this permaculture community has replaced several “work parties” used in the past, with a workable, novel approach called “permablitz,” in which all the work is done by a large group – in one day.  

When Lisa Fernandes, co-founder, and another person from the Permaculture community came for a “site visit” preliminary to this unique Permablitz – before going outdoors, we sat first in the living room to talk things through. I was unprepared for the joy that would come of this. First, there was the tender moment when Lisa remembered having sat on a particular chair here, pregnant with her only child during a permaculture meeting in Francis’ and my living room, 10 years earlier. Then, what I had not expected was the fact that Lisa’s approach was – not just to restore what IS, BUT – to meet MY needs as I “age in place” !!

Since, in my 80’s, I’m certainly not going to be doing any winter harvesting, we agreed that the aging cold frame and hoop house will not be replaced. Instead, sea berries and goji berries were planted in that area near the pond along with . . . can you believe it? – two hazel nut bushes! (More good things to share with neighbors in exchange for their help, in various ways.)

After the permablitz, I posted a newsy report about it onto my website, right here under “About Us” and “Permaculture”: http://www.elainemcgillicuddy.com/about/about-us/ (Just scroll down till you see: “Permaculture Permablitz 10 Years Later.” And/or here is the link on the meetup’s site for where you can view 20 photos taken during that joyous, daylong unique permablitz (unique because it was the first one done on what someone called “a mature permaculture site” – one already created, beginning with 10 years earlier:

I felt full of gratitude for the love with which I was surrounded, having this community with me again, because – since Francis died, due to my absorption with writing my books, I rarely went to their meetings – only a handful, e.g. like viewing a film like “Gaslight”. But I want to participate more now, in ways that I can, (not in permablitzes, because the work is too much at my age) but in other gatherings. For example, I went to a Permaculture fund-raising meal at b.good restaurant scheduled the week after the permablitz. And that was very moving for me: to meet again with people who knew Francis from our early work party years. That night, Lisa’s husband, David Whitten, to whom I had given some of Francis’ clothing after he died, selected one of Francis’ especially handsome sweaters to wear.

An octogenarian, now, it’s not surprising I’m beginning to hear a “Letting Go” theme in my life. I hinted at it in my Christmas letter last year by noting that, although I was still, once a month, leading the Dances of Universal peace, I had passed on the role of organizer to a younger leader. This past July, however, I let these friends know that this is the last year I will be formally leading the Dances of Universal Peace – after having done so for 20 years.

Of course this doesn’t mean I’ll never do this kind of thing again. As a matter of fact, I was invited in February of this year to give a three hours presentation on the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer at ChIME – “Chaplaincy Institute of Maine.” And three weeks later, responding to another invitation, I gave a similar presentation at the Unity Church in Portland. These were both unsought “assignments.” That’s what happens, I guess, when one has been around for a long time.

But letting go is good. I was reflecting the other day, along these lines: After 23 ½ years of teaching mostly high school English, I taught yoga at the Portland Yoga Studio which Francis and I co-founded in 1989, until 2011 – for 30 years! Of course I didn’t stop personal practice. That’s something else. I have a long daily yoga practice – simply to keep my problem hip and my arthritic joints pain free. . . . I don’t mean to brag now but listen to this because it might help somebody: I’ve had osteoporosis (the full blown thing, not just osteopaenia) for years. Well, I fell and landed on my right wrist and left jaw and temple, on August 20 this summer – BUT nothing broke. With osteoporosis, some bones should have broken, right? Dr. Babbitt, specialist, now retired, had allowed me to be on NO MEDS – because every day I do what I call a doorway handstand (leaning on one side of the door frame as I walk up the other). The fact my fall did not break bones is big time proof that pressure on bone calls forth those osteoblasts which build bone. Conversely, when there’s no pressure on bone, the osteoclasts eat it up! . . . Ha! Looks as if I’m teaching a little yoga after all – the theory behind its benefits.  

30 years teaching yoga, by next June - 20 years leading the Dances of Universal Peace - So that leaves my Peace community and my Permaculture community. Working for peace will go on. How could it not? Francis did this our whole lives together. Even in 2003 when we started the anti-torture vigil, before he took sick. But I’m still clear about preferring to participate in peacemaking actions organized by others, rather than being the organizer. I can’t help thinking that I’ve been organizer long enough.

But now what about this younger vibrant community? Portland Maine Permaculture’s (aka) Resilience Hub? I’ve been a member for 10 years. I feel as if it’s time for me to engage with them more often now. After all, residing on a living, active permaculture demonstration site with an orchard and garden to tend to and fruits of various kinds to enjoy and share as I age in place here, (God willing) it fits right in with my “largely monastic life” which very clearly continues to call me.

With gratitude and love for your precious friendship,
Elaine

PS Dominican brother Joseph Kilikevice OP who directs the “Shem Center” in Oak Park Illinois, http://www.shemcenter.org/shemcenter.org/Shem_Welcome.html
and who has been my mentor in the Dances of Universal Peace since 1999, wrote such a moving letter at this Christmas time, that, with his permission, I am attaching it to mine, here below:


Flowers silently accompany us in times of joy and in times of sorrow.
- Okakura (1862-1913) Master of Chado, (The Way of Tea)

Dear friends,

Christmas, 2016, calls for some deep reflection on what we value in life. What I believe is foundational for us as citizens of the world is simply, respect. This is followed by inclusiveness, kindness, fairness, peace and justice for all people and indeed for creation itself.

Christmas is also a time to savor the delights of the season, summoning lovely memories of happy get
togethers, good cheer, joy and the glee and delight of children. But I am finding that this time, Christmas is different. There has always been trouble in the world but the joy and peace of Christmas always seemed to triumph. I’m finding it hard to shake off the long months of assault on human decency the political campaign brought. We’re being asked to shake off the negative energy that afflicts us and to come together as one nation. Sure, we’d like to do that but it’s not as easy as wishing for it or denying the profound hurt many are feeling. I’m struggling to proclaim the Christmas message of hope while still feeling so disoriented from
the long, tiresome political fiasco.

There were moments when our character as a nation seemed to break through and a sense of our greatness as a people began to surface, but the rhetoric of fear, deception, hostility, disrespect, hate and mistrust trampled on these moments of hope. A deeply divided nation is being asked to come together now. Really, just like that? Can we make our way out of this murkiness into light. It’s at this point that I’m thinking this in not a Christmas letter I want to send my family and friends. Is it better to stay quiet, isolate and deny ourselves the companionship we need to find our way out of our collective heartbreak. Our story has moved beyond victory or defeat, beyond one political party or the other. We’ve been violated as a people and much of the rest of the world sees it. Healing will take time.

So if you’re still reading this letter and have not abandoned my polemic as too hard to take, perhaps my first paragraph has something to offer. It is, I believe, a time to reflect, and to do so together rather than to deny our pain. We deserve the companionship that the honest naming of our wounds and what we still value calls for. What can connect us to each other and what can connect us to God is the question to consider. Can we talk to each other about how we are really feeling, and then reflect and listen deeply to what each of us needs right now? Can we recover respect and kindness as qualities we still value?

I regularly meet with a small group of friends and in a recent conversation, fear, Islamaphobia, racism and hate were sadly acknowledged as the new normal. I brought flowers for each of my friends to take home that night, remembering how “flowers silently accompany us in times of joy and in times of sorrow.” I also read them a favorite poem by the 13th century Chinese sage, Wu Men.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

May 10,000 flowers bring you the promise of another spring, and bless your days with courage and hope this Christmas time.
Joseph Kilikevice, OP


Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Next Two Books - No April Fool Joke

Dear Family and Friends,

Life sure is full of surprises. I knew that you would be surprised to learn that I wrote a fourth book - and I'll give you details about that one, here below, since it was published today!

But, here is more news: In recent days, and significantly, on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25 - I myself was surprised by an unexpected, though clear call to pick up again the book I had started to write but dropped, last summer. (I gave my reasons for that decision in the letter I wrote on July 14, 2015 entitled "With Diminishment - Fulfillment". It's posted on my website under the Elaine and Francis blog.) Looking back, I'm concluding that the timing must not have been right, earlier.

I envision this fifth book will have something like the same title - "THIS NEW LIFE - Selections from A Widow's Journal." But, from what I sense, this one may, or likely will, have a more specific focus.

Interestingly, I also intuit that publishing the fourth book, A Friend Who Knows the Tone, somehow, unexpectedly, actually set the stage for resurrecting what will now be, my fifth book - the "Widow's Journal." book!


This fourth one is a small book, consisting mainly of thank you poems to my editor, Mike O'Connor - thirty-two poems, to be exact. Its title, A Friend Who Knows the Tone - is significant, as I'll explain. And with that explanation will come the second reason for my writing it.

Though Mike lives in the Pacific Northwest, he walked with me, so to speak, through every one of the poems in my first and third books, and also during the two year process I spent writing Francis' and my love story in prose. As my editor, he's the one who most directly assisted me in writing these books after Francis died. In that sense, he helped me answer my call.

So you can imagine why I want to thank Mike. I'm even certain Francis would want me to do so. In fact, knowing Francis as I do, I believe that in some way, he has been, all along, thanking my editor.

In my Christmas letter, two and a half months ago, I wrote: "At this point, it's difficult to convey the depth of my gratitude and joy that the three books I felt compelled to write after Francis died, have been completed."

And then, in that letter, I copied for you what I called "this recent little poem - THE HARVEST IS IN.

What I didn't tell you then, however, is that I had left out a stanza. This poem, you see, is actually one of the poems in this new book. Here it is now, with the omitted third stanza restored. 

THE HARVEST IS IN

Why am I crying
"Joy and thanksgiving!"?

It's my lot
to leave our legacy of love -
(Francis's and mine)
in poems and prose:
three books in five years,
since he died.

But take a bow, my editor:
they wouldn't exist
as they do,
without you.
          
Joy and thanksgiving!

The same David Gawlik of Wisconsin, whose company, Caritas Communication, published my first three books, has published this one, A Friend Who Knows the Tone. (David, also a non-canonical priest as Francis was, became our special friend ever since we joined CORPUS, in 1991.) But, because David is using a different system now (something like print on demand) I will no longer be required to buy copies of my book, in bulk. Although that's good for my pocketbook, it means I won't have copies of this book on hand to give or sell to others.

Those interested in a copy will have to order it directly from amazon.com.

As far as my living room is concerned, however, that's a good thing, too, since I already have stacks of books in boxes from which to fill out orders for my Sing to Me and I Will Hear You books.

I can, however, give you the flavor of the poems in A Friend Who Knows the Tone by copying for you here a few of the significant ones. How in the world did I end up with an editor from the Pacific Northwest? To me, it's pure "Providence." But this poem goes into detail:

THE LINKS

My "yes" to a student's request -
"May I tell your story of grief?"

A widow's response from afar
to its national radio airing:
"That's my experience, too!"

My question to her,
this new email friend:
"What to do with these poems?
They keep coming!
Could they fit in a memoir?"

Her offer:
"Shall I ask my neighbor?
He's done something like that.
He's a poet and editor, too."

His response when he read them:
"There are good things in these.
I'll help you."

Yes, indeed, it took
all of these links -
each
one
in conjunction
to bring my editor to me.

And here is one of the last poems in the book:

OUR WORDS

No other one
walked through my grief
as you did, for
you worked with my words;
you worked with "his" words.
None could walk now
in that way
through my grief
as you did, for
the bare naked time of that
raw early pain
has gone.
That period is gone.
But as you walked with me then,
you still walk with me now. 

The significance of this book's title points to another weighty reason, besides gratitude, why I wrote it, . . . or, to be more accurate - it's what in the first place, prompted my writing A Friend Who Knows the Tone. But first you need to know this:

Besides being a poet, writer, and editor, Mike O'Connor, is also a translator of Chinese literature. As I learned from him by happenstance after concluding business over the telephone -  the Chinese word chih-yin means "to know the tone." A Friend Who Knows the Tone is a good title for my book, then, because without question, from the beginning, Mike grasped, as if from within, what I was expressing in my poems. Perhaps the fact he was still grieving the death of his own mother, not long before deceased, had something to do with it. In any case, Mike has been, and continues to be, for me - one who knows the tone: a chih-yin. 

But, to get back to that second source of inspiration which nudged me to write this book. Once I heard the story behind the word chih-yin, I wanted to spotlight it for our contemporaries. Why? Because I see it as a "treasure" from the historical period called: "The Spring and Autumn Period of Ancient China." So I did, by making it a prominent part of my preface.

I'm glad, realizing right now, that even without buying my book - you can read this ancient chih-yin story for yourself, right here:
https://www.unf.edu/mudlark/mudlark07/oconnor.html It's Mike who had his particular contribution posted, in 1997 in his friend's, William Slaughter's, "Electronic Journal of Poetry & Poetics - Never in and never out of print."
But his own offering is entitled "Mudlark No. 7 (1997) Only A Friend Can Know  Poems and Translations on the Theme of Chi-yin by Mike O'Connor"

The great thing is - you can read for yourself, here, https://www.unf.edu/mudlark/mudlark07/oconnor.html not only the story itself (which is all that I copied, verbatim, to include in my preface) but also, Mike's translations from the Chinese, of several poems written by selected ancient Chinese poets. They're mixed in alongside several of Mike's own poems.

The point is that these poems, both ancient and contemporary, are all written in the "chih-yin" spirit. Or, as Mike called them: "Poems and Translations on the Theme of Chih-yin".

I encourage you to read, as well, the detailed "Notes" at the end, because they're instructive. In fact, this particular Mudlark No. 7 (1997) will enable you to understand something about the character of my editor - A Friend Who Knows the Tone.

So here it is, dear family and friends - not an April Fool's joke, but an announcement: "My Next Two Books."

As I told David this evening, (He's my publisher and Francis' and my longtime friend through CORPUS www.corpus.org):  "I'm quite happy about this - my call to pick up again what will now be my fifth book, THIS NEW LIFE - A Widow's Journal!"

Loving regards, and Easter season blessings to you all,

Elaine


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Postscript on a Widow's Journey

Dear Family and Friends,

I recently joined a Facebook Page “community” entitled “WOW,” (“Women’s Older Wisdom”). It was created by Pat Taub, a family therapist, writer, activist, and life-long feminist. Look here to read her interesting “Introduction to WOW: http://wowblog.me/about/   

At some point, Pat asked me if I would be willing to write two guest blogs about my experience as a widow. “The widow’s voice is missing,” she explained. So I agreed to to fill this void, and thereby open up a topic which is clearly relevant for us older women.

Here, then, are my two guest blogs, A Widow’s Journey Parts I and II, which Pat posted on her blog in late February and early March, 2016:  http://wowblog.me/category/life-as-a-widow/

But – I want to tack on an open-ended addition. Beyond the constraints of a word limit for the those two essays, I have need to say more. So here it is:


                     POSTSCRIPT ON A WIDOW’S JOURNEY

I recently came upon a 73 page pdf I found so helpful, I added it to the annotated list of books on grief and death that helped me after Francis died. It’s on my website under Elaine’s blog: “Mourning and the Transformation of Object Relationships, Evidence for the Persistence of Internal Attachments” by John E. Baker, PhD of Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Hospital  http://www.griefcounselor.org/articles/prof-article-mourning-and-transformation-baker.pdf
After Francis’ death, I found the most help from Greg Mogenson’s book, Greeting the Angels An Imaginal View of the Mourning Process - because it closely mirrored my experience. That book was published in 1992.

I can now say, however, that this recently published article goes even further in supporting my ongoing widow’s journey.  
In reviewing recent clinical and empirical literature on the subject of mourning, its author declares: “Mourning is seen as a process of inner transformation that . . . involves not the breaking of an object tie, but the transformation of that attachment into a sustaining internal presence .”

When I read the following, I immediately identified it as my experience. This what I do! –
“Widows or widowers who review the events of the day in their imagination with the person who died are using the internal relationship not just to decrease their feelings of loneliness, but also to sort out their own thoughts and to define their own wishes, needs, and feelings. They are using the internal relationship to define and maintain their sense of self-identity. . .

Since these few other passages go even further in illuminating my way, I’m going to quote them here below, without further explanation.

I hope that my writing and sharing of resources that help me, is of help to you, or to others you know.

Loving gratitude,
Elaine

In healthy mourning, some of the functions of the internal object are gradually taken over by new relationships with new objects in the external world. Yet there are aspects of the internal relationship with the deceased that remain unique. The self is never again the same as it was in that relationship, and the object too is found to be unique in ways that cannot be fully replaced. It is this core of individuality, of uniqueness of the self and object representations, that characterizes a continuing, healthy "introject" in the personality of the bereaved individual. . . .

Although we know that after such a loss the acute state of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute [for the person who died]. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else. (E. L. Freud, 1960, p. 386) A continuing internal relationship can coexist with the development of new object relationships, which in turn enrich the inner world in their own unique ways. It is this coexistence of inner attachments in the mourning individual, even long after the death of the love object, that needs to be recognized and better understood. . . .





Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Harvest Is In

December 25, 2016 

Dear Family and Friends, 

Can you believe it’s close to six years since Francis died? (on January 3, 2010)

What I intuited and expressed in the “Postscript” of my first book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – The Poems, published in the spring of 2012, has turned out to be prophetic. I admitted there that it was the first time I was publicly using the expression “largely monastic” to characterize my lifestyle.
By now, I can confirm that this lifestyle does suit me, and on different fronts too.

Since monasticism is characterized by “work and recreation,” as well as by “prayer and study,” I am not deprived. Certain activities are staple diet for me, such as regularly going to Portland Symphony, attending plays, and participating in a wide variety of other activities, like demonstrations for peace and justice. (My days of organizing these, however, are past.) But, simultaneously with cultivating friendships which I cherish, I need and thrive on silence, and living at a slower pace. (I think my background of being an only child and of having spent15 ½ years in the convent underpins all this.) Even my long, daily yoga practice (which keeps me pain free) and being one of the leaders (but no longer the organizer of monthly gatherings for) the Dances of Universal Peace – accords with this “largely monastic” picture.

My lifestyle also goes hand in glove with the considerable work of maintaining the permaculture-demonstration site garden and orchard which Francis and I created around this little bungalow we bought in 1972. I couldn’t live in a more mutually supportive neighborhood, I believe, than this modest one, bounded by two dead end streets. We look out for one another, and I, in particular, experience how my neighbors watch out for me. For example, they help me with shoveling, and one of those neighbors also mows the lawn path around my house. On my part, it’s satisfying to be able to reciprocate with vegetables and fruits from these gardens, e.g. strawberries, blueberries, plums, and – did you know there are edible dogwood tree berries? (Cornus Mas): They’re delicious! And, listen to this: A person I hired to wash my windows this fall insisted that all he wanted as payment would be concord grapes next summer.

In the same Postscript to my first book, I went on to say that my own poems, “given me to work with,” would guide me. I compared them to “custom-made maps” and to “bells ringing out my truth.” Well, having become aware of it, multiple times since then – I can affirm that that prediction also was prophetic. My poems actually do, still, apply to my life as it evolves – for example, these lines from a poem (PAIN’S SHARP EDGE) in my first book: “Heart’s remembering sharpens / sense to touch / new you, now, any when.”

Here’s one example of my heart’s naturally “remembering”:  Every now and then I go onto my website www.elainemcgillicuddy.com where the elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com is “parked,” to see what was going on, on the same day, . . . and now, it’s six years ago. When I did that last week, I was so moved by Francis’ immediate response to Anne Underwood’s comment then, I sent her an email entitled: “Thank you six years later.”

Here’s my note to her: “Anne, you made such a significant remark in response to my letter, “A Turn in the Road,” six years ago – look here at what it elicited from Francis: To your saying – "Everything happens as you are ready for it," (as I expressed it then) – “He shot right back: ‘I'm ready!’"
And I signed off my email to Anne: “At peace,
 / Elaine,/ and Francis too”

At this point, it’s difficult to convey the depth of my gratitude and joy that the three books I felt compelled to write after Francis’ death, have been completed. But this recent little poem tries to do that. It came as they all do – because a certain feeling or train of thought so moves me, it begs for expression:

THE HARVEST IS IN

Why am I crying
“Joy and thanksgiving!”?

It’s my lot
to leave our legacy of love –
(Francis’s and mine)
in poems and prose:
three books in five years,
since he died. 
           
Joy and thanksgiving!


It was my publisher, David Gawlik’s idea to have his graphic designer create a 4x6 postcard depicting the covers of my three books – a trilogy, really.  He ordered 1,000 cards, so I’ve been liberally giving them to whoever is interested. It’s attached in this email, but also on my website, here: http://www.elainemcgillicuddy.com/book-readings/ What motivates me to hand them out is joy from the fact that “It’s my lot to leave our legacy of love . . .” But my eagerness also comes from wanting to share with whomever it might help – a certain unexpected development to which Providence or Synchronicity has given a boost.

This is what happened: First, my former doctor, Dr. Daniel C. Bryant, now retired, and a publisher poet and writer too, wrote me a long letter in response to my second book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – A Love Story. He ended with this: “Finally, that last section when Francis is dying, and your conversations are recorded, is not only moving, but invaluable. Nowhere else, in any of the “death and dying” books and conferences, have I seen such documentation of the final stages, the final farewells, of a long, close relationship. That last section should be required reading for medical students and chaplains, if not for everybody.”
            Then, in July (just when SING . . . A Love Story was published) I made friends with new neighbors, just moved from Vermont – Rabbi Joshua Chasan and his wife Cathy. So of course, Joshua and I swapped books.
            When Joshua heard about Dr. Bryant’s comment, he immediately offered to connect me with two doctors who do exactly what Dr. Bryant was talking about – bring books to the attention of medical students.
            After email correspondences, I mailed a package of all three books to each of them, since they both work at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. So, what Dr. Bryant proposed, has already started happening!

So that’s why I carry those 4x6 cards with me. If, prompted by my web address on the card, those to whom I give them go to my website, they will learn about that development, in addition to seeing people’s responses to all three books, including Dr. Bryant’s. And they might find material that could be of help to them; for example, an annotated bibliography of books that helped me after Francis died. I’ve also been told by several people who grieve the loss of loved ones, that my writing helps them.

Tonight I was remembering what Francis said to me, unexpectedly, six years ago, tonight –  toward the end of our first of five “Last Supper” conversations: “Your presence was deeply drawn into my soul, and so, I am very happy.” I knew enough at the time, hearing this, what an extraordinary conversation that was – and how those words of his expressed for me the fulfillment of our marriage, the preciousness of which one could not dare expect in a marriage. It was such a “zenith” moment in my life, that later, it drew a poem from me: NADIR AND ZENITH.

Last Christmas I printed and tucked a copy of that poem in some of my Christmas cards. By then, it had not yet been published. But this year, it can be found on page 61 of my third book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems. (As you may remember, since Francis’ doctor, Dr. John Devlin, brought us his recorder to use, the last chapter of SING . . . Love Story entitled “Last Suppers” is a literal transcription of our recorded conversations . . . so even in just reading that chapter – it sounds like Francis! I told my editor and publisher, that even while proofreading this chapter in preparation for publication, I felt I was walking on holy ground. And for me, that impression still holds. So, no wonder Dr. Bryant said that that last chapter should be required reading for medical students and chaplains.
   
There’s so much more to say, for example, about: how my 80’s birthday party brought in over $2,000 for African refugees in my parish (Thank you!);
how my having been (not the “victim,” but) the object of identity theft has overburdened me (We’re just on alert now, and I’ve learned so much about this kind of thing!); how adopting a Siamese mix cat has been time consuming but so rewarding. I’ve enjoyed taking advice from the excellent book Thinking Like a Cat. Eight pound, 16 months old Bella is, as Lynn said, one of the most beautiful cats she’s ever seen. Indeed, she delights me with her beauty, playfulness, and sweet, loving ways – even when, as the predator she also is, she runs at high speed from one side of the house to the other to hop up onto the bow window sill (one of several perches I’ve set up for her in the house) so she can spot prey. When Bella bit me only a day after she arrived, I didn’t blame her, because I soon learned that the fault was mine for having let her play with my hands.

That bite did, however, inaugurate other trips to Mercy Hospital’s Express Care. After a tetanus shot for that, I had to return in ensuing weeks for two other reasons: a cut lip, and then an infected finger! (See why I’ve been delayed in writing this letter?)

The other big news in my life is this: Lynn accepted a position at Rutgers University where Lee has been teaching for years. This means that Lee no longer has to commute from New Jersey to Portland every weekend! Of course I miss them, but we’re in touch, the way a grandmother is kept in touch. And since they did not sell their home in Portland, they return regularly to keep connections with friends. So, as Rowan’s godmother, my relationship with “my little family” is strong as ever. The timing of the move is also good, since Rowan was due to move up to Middle School anyway. In hearing that she has made friends, and has also made an excellent adjustment to her new school there (where she gets top grades, as ever) I’m so proud of her! Rowan recently wrote a poem, Reverence From Earth to Soul that so moved me, I emailed it to friends of mine –  two gifted, beautiful Penobscot Indian women leaders: Sherri Mitchell, an attorney, and Maria Girouard, a historian. (Do look them up online.)

Last night, I had the great privilege again, at our Christmas Eve liturgy, to chant the ancient Christmas proclamation from the Roman Martyrology. It’s something that’s done mostly in monasteries. In 2013, the idea of doing it in our parish came to me spontaneously during a conversation with a friend, when I was recalling my love of the Advent “O Antiphons,” as we sang them during convent days. If you use this link
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cWykjM1k90  you can hear a Benedictine monk chanting it. . . .

I guess the nun part of me is still strong. It’s fitting, then, to close with two poems (both in my third book) since they express where I’m at right now.


THE NUN, THE WIFE, AND THE WIDOW                    

The nun knew,
on the eve of her departure,
the reason she would leave
the convent.

She quoted the bride
of the Songs of Songs
in her unconventional
Christmas card –
in alluding to him,
the priest:
“I found him whom my soul loves,
and I will never
let him go.”

Words declared as wife and widow, too.
                                         
                              * Song of Songs 3:4


MY STUDENT       

“I’ve never had a love
like that!” she cries,
looking at the cover of
my second book –
that look –
between my love and me.

We embrace,
my former student and I.
She loved him too;
had heard he was deceased.

But she weeps for herself
(I can tell)
more than out of sympathy for me –
that she, beautiful and single still –
has not yet found her love.

To hearten her:
“You’re young, it’s not too late!”  
She smiles through her tears.

Hearing hers and other women’s tales,
I know the price I pay
– widow aching for his arms –
weighs nothing like the worth of
such a love I’ve known.

A Blessed rest of the Christmas season to each and all of you – culminating in the illuminating Epiphany,
and good health, peace, joy and love in 2016 and beyond,

My love and gratitude,
Elaine

     
December 25, 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

With Diminishment - Fulfillment

 Dear Family and Friends,  

There are four chapters in my third book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU New Poems – recently arrived! Each chapter is taken from a line in one of my own poems. In one of those,  entitled “BIRTHDAYS,” I refer to my “new imperative” (second chapter heading):

“. . . we could not know 
what lay ahead –
how our birthdays that year
would usher in
a new and
different kind of life 
when through my loss
I found you again –
transformed, 
but near –
enabling me
in my new imperative
to tell our story,
to share our love.”

During the five and a half years since Francis’ death, and in particular, when poems started to come, and then, after the publication of each of the first and next two books (our love story, and this latest, second book of poems) – I’ve ended one of my daily prayers, “Come darling Francis, fill me with your spirit. . . ” by asking him: “Give me courage and the will to live – and help me write our books.”

And he has! I had a dream around the time when I sent my publisher the final manuscript of SING . . . New Poems which made it clear that he has. In the dream, the way that Francis firmly took me by the shoulders, and smiling, thanked me for having completed the books, was so palpable, it felt almost like what I related in the poem, “VISITATION,” in the first poem book.

So I fully expected I would be moving on to the fourth book, now. I had even already announced its title: “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal”. In fact, since I had already begun writing a third book that initially included both the poems and the widow’s journal –  what I had indicated in recent letters (that that fourth book was already “in progress”) – was correct. Correct, then.
But last Sunday, I went into my website’s home page, and I deleted this sentence:  A fourth book is in progress: "THIS NEW LIFE Selections from a Widow's Journal".

What happened?  Did I – or why did I – lose, seemingly suddenly – the “imperative” to write the fourth book?

Two former students of mine, now widowed, told me last year that my writing helps them. After I offered to mail them copies of this third one, one of them emailed, inquiring: “How do you feel now that the new book has been published?” I responded:  “Oh my, what a big question, Mary!”    

                            
But I told her truthfully that I felt teary, and, without quoting the penultimate stanza of the poem “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”, I referred her to page 80 and added: “This poem mentions what I’m driving at. In spite of the ‘let that go . . .’ in the last line, it’s still a thought that returns. I’m grateful to have a spiritual adviser with whom to talk this over. It’s good you have your girls to keep you going.” (I was grateful to hear in Mary’s response, that my admission of feeling teary helped her all the more.)
These are the last two stanzas of “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”:

“Ever since your death,  
I’ve taken relief in the thought:
I’ll write my books, then die.

But now I know it’s time
to let that go . . .”

The reaction I confided to Mary was strong enough to initiate deep reflection, and some soul searching. In the end, I took it as a sign I needed to do something different from what I had expected was my next step.

I’m aware that several factors compounded in June to make me feel especially vulnerable. But my decision – specifically, to let go of the fourth book, and also, to slow down  – was only reinforced by each of the following:

1) I came down with unexpected, acute pain in the left hip. X-RAYS confirmed there’s significant cartilage degeneration in both hip joints. And this was complicated by reactive tendonitis of hip flexor muscles in the left hip. (I’m much better now, and have returned the borrowed canes I used for a few weeks, thanks to yoga which now keeps both hips in good working order.)
As a result of this episode, however, though I will still lead some Dances of Universal Peace (DUP), I decided to hand over to the other two leaders of our “circle” in Portland, the organizing role I necessarily took on since I started it, in 1997.

2) For someone like me who has had to do daily yoga to keep the right hip pain free (as a result of which my health and energy are very good) the shock of having had to use a cane, and of being unable to plant my garden without help, raised a scary question: Will I be able to “age in place”? Some of my contemporaries have moved, or will be moving, to be near their children. Will I be able to live here till I die? Will I be able to keep up with all the work there is to do in maintaining the permaculture? (Then I remembered a neighbor I had hired to help free me to be totally available to Francis at the end. And I talked with her about this, if I need help, in the future.)

3) Turning 50 years old was a big thing for me thirty years ago, but, psychologically, turning 80 is huge. After over a year of being in awe of this fact (One of my new poems is entitled “I’M GLAD I’M OLD just thirteen months / from my eightieth year. . . ”) it’s gratifying to realize that I’m actually, honestly, “glad,” about it.
This is what I wrote to a friend only last night, about the “switch” in our DUP circle: “Interesting how much real joy there is in doing that – making way for the next generation. You know, I haven’t been able to completely shake off what I wrote in more than one of my poems, such as this one –  “I’M GLAD I’M OLD” . . .  or “EN ROUTE” which refer to my willingness to be reunited with Francis in whatever mysterious way that will happen someday. . . . Ah! The poem “WHEN MY TIME COMES” refers to it specifically. Here’s that poem . . .”

So, the “teary” reaction which led me to a different path, creating a juncture or crossroad, has brought me new resolution, and even deeper joy.

I found myself reasoning like this in favor of putting aside the second book and slowing down:

If the third book, SING . . . New Poems traces my journey through widowhood, and goes even deeper into that experience than the first one could (and it does) – why comb through past journals to assemble selections for a fourth book entitled “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal”? Especially since it would, in essence, convey in prose, much of the same thing? So my widowed former students need not be disappointed (as one expressed last year) at the postponement of “widow’s journal.”

Besides, if I did write a fourth book, by publication date, I might be 81 or 82 – and so less spry to do the modest book tour I’ve envisioned doing (because I love doing book readings. . . . and I’m good at it too. What I especially like is how it engages people to reflect about their own lives. My last book reading lasted two hours, because of the questions after my presentation.)

Moreover, if I did not write a fourth book – wouldn’t I be more thoroughly living “This New Life” since I’d use that time to be more engaged with my local community? I could be doing some of the things Francis and I did together – e.g. by being more available on the peace and justice front? Or by formally teaching English to Africans, rather than merely informally, after mass? (Francis used to sit in on those classes, and enjoyed interacting with our African friends.)

Writing requires a certain amount of solitude which I actually like, even thrive on. This necessity has been a genuine “excuse” why I have had to isolate myself just a little. But I believe it would be good for me to be more engaged in our Portland community, without sacrificing the solitude I still want and need.

Finally, since I like writing so much, and poetry in particular, there’s no reason why I couldn’t keep myself open to new poems’ coming, even if the likelihood of my publishing another book of poems is far-fetched. When/if more poems come, there’s the Elaine’s Blog on my website where I could “park” them.

I’ve been trying to think of what to call this letter. “With Diminishment – Fulfillment” is an okay title, but “only okay” because the “diminishment” part of it sounds pretentious. In particular, because the “diminishment” is not as dire as it first felt.

But the “fulfillment” is real because, with the arrival of the third book, the three form a trilogy now. And this trilogy is entitled by my late husband’s own words – Francis’ request of me when he would die: “Sing to me and I will hear you.”
           
My amazement over this remarkable request of his (which inspired two poems in the first book – “WHOEVER HEARD?” and “DUET”) continues, even now, five and a half years since Francis’ death. This was demonstrated some weeks ago when a friend introduced me to another of her friends. When I explained this simple fact to her, both of us were caught in the emotion of this exceptional and loving request Francis made of me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Nor would I want to!

Gratitude and Love to all,
Elaine

PS: SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems is available through Amazon and at local bookstores and selected libraries in the greater Portland area (including Biddeford ME). Through my website www.elainemcgillicuddy.com you can also order a book from my local bookstore in Portland ME – Longfellow Books which has multiple copies.  



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Different Kind of Letter


 Dear Family and Friends,

At first I thought this might seem to you like a different kind of letter from the ones I’ve written since September, 2009, when Francis and I received news of the cancer that would take his life. My letters since then have included news of the writing I’ve been doing since his death. (The third book, by the way – SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems should be available in May. And now I’m engaged working on the fourth book – “THIS NEW LIFE – A Widow’s Journal.”)

In reality, however, this is not a very different kind of letter. And I think you’ll see why, if its length does not deter you. ;o) But I’ll tell you right now. In a nutshell, it’s this: What I write about below are happenings Francis and I experienced together. In their very telling, then, he comes among us.  

Here’s why I wrote my letter:

Because Francis and I made a three week tour of Vietnam in 2006, when I read the following on www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org – I knew I had to respond:

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landing of U.S. ground troops in Da Nang, Vietnam.  Many consider this to be the beginning of the American War in Vietnam. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the war the Pentagon is undertaking a ten-year, $65-million campaign to rewrite and whitewash the history of the war in Southeast Asia.
In response, Veterans for Peace has announced the Vietnam War Full Disclosure project to offer a more truthful history of the war.  As part of the project, Veterans for Peace is asking all who were affected, directly or indirectly, by the war to write letters addressed to “The Wall” (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) describing their experiences and sharing their grief over its devastating consequences. The project welcomes letters from both soldiers and civilians.”
Shortly after Francis’ and my return, I had given a one hour slide show presentation about our tour to the Audubon Society’s Travel Club. So I knew I had material ready at hand in all the notes and a few articles I had written.  

When I opened those files, my eyes brimmed with tears.

My letter is posted on the website www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org that includes much information, and –




Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Fifth Blessed Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

As our dark season approaches the return of light which is Solstice, and then Christmas, I’m becoming aware how this grand, ongoing drama of life is taking place also, within myself.

A few of the large-scaled dramas have touched me personally this month, e.g. when I participated in last Sunday’s march for Racial Justice (escorted by police down Congress Street) at the end of which, in the Portland High School gym, we listened to stirring talks. Having translated from French to English some African asylees’ “Declaration” papers to present before US Immigration, I’ve learned a lot. For example, one politically active young man, happily settled here now, had to flee for his life for doing a similar thing in the Congo. The newspaper’s quoting an African onlooker’s expression of amazement witnessing this peaceful demonstration means something.

The other one relates to Francis’ and my having started a weekly Anti-Torture Vigil at Monument Square in 2003. I used to read everything about that dark subject to select materials for handouts – at that time. Since Francis’ death, however, I haven’t had the stomach (good cliché) to follow any of this closely. Now, with the release of the long-awaited Senate report on interrogation techniques used by the CIA, however, I’m grateful indeed that finally, the truth has been publicly acknowledged by our own government. That too means something.

About my writing work, something new has developed within the last week. It mirrors what happened in 2011 when I was puzzling how to handle poems that were coming at a time when I wanted to write Francis’ story and mine in prose. At that time, I was poised to include both poetry and prose in one book, just as I was about to do now. But, as I finally chose to do, then, I have decided to do the same now: write two books, not one.

So the content of the third book,“SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems,” will include these new poems by themselves. And the fourth book, “THIS NEW LIFE A Widow’s Journal,” will include selections from my journal which I’ve been keeping since Francis died.

To speak about my journey now (almost five years after his death on January 3, 2010) – when I went to bed last night, I felt downright surprised at the depth of my joy. When I awakened even more happy, I wondered at it. The reason, I decided, is that I had spent most of the previous day selecting the order . . . , in other words, I was sequencing the poems for my third book. That’s cause enough for joy, for sure, because those approximately 70 poems that have come since publication of the first poems book, reengage me with the experiences Francis and I were privileged to share. These new poems also touch on my own experiences adjusting to this never-before-traveled road I’m on – the state of widowhood.

There’s even a deeper reason for the blessedness I felt last night and this morning. It’s what I’ve discovered through writing both the poems, and my widow’s story. And it’s this: I’ve come to appreciate this time in my life, just as it is. Widowhood has given me the opportunity not only to grow in new ways, develop gifts I didn’t realize I had, but also, to advance in understanding that comes with age.

Moreover, all along, since Francis died, I’ve felt “called” to write. But now, with a deepening, reassuring surety about it – that my current writing of two more books (for a total of four) continues to confirm that I’m still engaged in the work I must do before I die – no wonder I felt almost euphoric! For what deeper satisfaction can there be than doing what one feels called to do? 

May each of you and your loved ones experience the joy of this season through the diverse ways of celebrating it, including Christmas.
May you be blessed with good health and energy to carry on with your own good work for the common good of all people – and for the restoration of our planet. (On this subject, here is important information I’ve discovered: http://www.context.org/about/plans/cis-long-term-strategy/

Loving regards,
Elaine