House of love, school of love

Some residents of Beacon Hill Friends House call it the house of love. Sometimes when we’re feeling warmed by the care we show one another, it means just what it says. Other times, when tensions are high, it’s used sarcastically. For me, house of love means a commitment to enter a school of love whether life is warm and fuzzy or fingernails-on-a-blackboard. It’s all about learning how to keep expanding the circle to include more and more, learning to love whom and what is in front of me instead of wishing they were different.

In her book, My Accidental JihadKrista Bremer describes the development of her relationship with her husband, Ismail, a Libyan Muslim. She is honest about the ways their cultural differences grate. She reports him telling her that Mohammed once said that the most difficult jihad people must fight is within themselves – against intolerance and self-absorption.

stacked otherwiseThat’s what the house of love is all about: Learning how to let go of my intolerance and self-absorption. And there’s nothing like living in a diverse community to make me confront it. Take a small example. We have a dish sanitizer (called the Avenger). I believe the rack should be loaded logically, putting likes with likes so more will fit. I can become quite grumpy if things have been put in helter skelter and there’s no room for my dishes. I’ve even been known to reload it to make more things fit because my preferred way of doing it is most likely the right way. It took a long time before I could hear another housie’s concern that loading the sanitizer rack too densely might make it heavy enough to hurt someone’s back when they put it into the machine. Continue reading

Sabbatical, retirement or do we need another word?

When we moved to Boston a year ago I had no intention of retiring. I thought I would cobble together some work and do some writing. To an extent I’ve done that, but it’s way less work and way less writing than I imagined. And, if you look at the amount of money I’ve earned, you’d be tempted to say I’ve retired.

I have also given myself lots of free time. I’ve enjoyed reading more books, exploring a new city, making new friends, becoming a part of a community, traveling extensively and having time to attend to the neglected parts of my life like exercise. So, it’s tempting to call it a sabbatical. But can it be a sabbatical if I don’t have a job to go back to?

Continue reading

Stayin’ alive (and moving) on the street and up the stairs

Ok, I admit it. For the most part I am a slug. I’ve never been athletic. My favorite hobbies include activities like reading, gardening, cooking, knitting and crafts. I do like to be out in nature, so hiking and biking have appeal. Gyms generally make me feel like a hamster in a cage and I can only get through the experience by dosing myself liberally with my favorite music.

jawbone fotoAs a younger person raising children I was forced into a certain level of activity. In my 65th year it was another story. Florida’s heat and humidity amplified my tendency to avoid moving.

Current research links a sedentary lifestyle to a host of medical conditions that only worsen with age. Mental acuity as one ages also appears linked to physical activity.

I became worried that I would age more quickly if I didn’t make some lifestyle changes. But, slug that I am, lifestyle changes don’t come easily. Sometimes I have to trick myself into them.  Continue reading

Books – My Friends or My Addiction

I sometimes wonder if my love of books could be an addiction of sorts. I can get high just walking into a bookstore. When we downsized from a four bedroom house to a room in this community, books were among the most difficult things for me to let go of – and I did let go of boxes of them. Despite this, books are the major clutter in our room now.

pile of booksI once met a person who claimed to have read ninety per cent of the books she owned. I never imagined such a thing was possible. I don’t think I’ve read more than 50% of the books I own, but that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more. The Kindle app is not my friend when it comes to this. The ability to download books that don’t take up room on the shelf is sometimes too great a temptation to resist.

And yet, when I think of the experiences books and reading have led me into, I don’t really want to put a negative label on my love of them. As a shy child in an alcoholic family, trips to the library were pure joy. The only cloud was that I couldn’t check out more books than I could carry. Books let me imagine different worlds than the one in which I lived. Continue reading

Taming the acquisition monster

I am not a big shopper. I discovered years ago that retail therapy was not very effective for me. Frequently I order what I need online to avoid having to go to malls. So downsizing and simplifying have not been onerous for me.

There are, however, two places where my acquisition monster comes roaring out. One is books, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post, and the other has to do with travel.  If you were to wander around our room you would clearly see that there is something about the art and craft of other cultures that I find irresistibly appealing. I went to Vietnam with the best of intentions, but the struggle was mighty and I didn’t always win.

artist with painting

Artist Hoang Thanh Phong (ricepaperart@yahoo.com) with his painting Mindfulness (photo used with permission of artist)

I gave myself a pass for some gifts: a couple of cute embroidered dresses for our newest granddaughter, coconut candies and various little things for our house mates, friends and relatives.

My biggest struggle came when we ate lunch at a terrific restaurant in Hue. Original art adorned the walls. The artist was there and told us about his works, which were very inexpensive. I wanted one so much I could hardly restrain myself. It was a perfect storm of desire – the artwork was deeply spiritual, I loved it, I wanted to support the artist, it was affordable, it would be a great reminder of a trip of a life time. It didn’t help when two of our traveling companions bought several between them. But, we have no more wall space in our room. The last thing we need is a painting. I walked away. I’d be lying, though, if I said I never think about contacting the artist and seeing if the one I loved most is still available.  Continue reading

Making room for one another

I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure. In fact, I’m writing this post from Hue, Vietnam. I don’t see these trips as an escape from community, but rather a chance to explore community in different ways.

imageTo better understand Vietnam, I am reading Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. She points out that the Vietnamese and American psyches are different with regard to space. For Americans, space seems less limited and the possibilities for expansion enormous. For the Vietnamese, it is clear that there is very limited space and to take too much of it is to deprive another. As Fitzgerald puts it:

Within the villages as within the nation, the amount of arable land was absolutely inelastic. The population of the village remained stable, and so to accumulate wealth meant to deprive the rest of the community of land, to fatten while one’s neighbor starved. Vietnam is no longer a closed economic system, but the idea remains with the Vietnamese that great wealth is antisocial, not a sign of success but a sign of selfishness.

The ways we share space or make room for one another (or not) color our own happiness as well as the health of  our community.

Among the scenes I’ve found most compelling in Vietnam is traffic, as reflected in the accompanying video captured by one of our travel companions, Bob Fox. Continue reading

Shining a light from one generation to another

Yesterday I turned 65. Bill and I had a really great day together, including a birthday dinner at the house. But there was no big ritual about it. I signed up for Medicare the month before. The day before I got my senior pass for the T, which allows me unlimited rides for $28 a month. But I did give a lot of thought to generations.

Over the last several years Bill and I have lost all the family members of the generation ahead of us except for one of my uncles. We’ve also lost our mentors and people who inspired us as they walked the path ahead. I understand far better now Marian Wright Edelman’s need to write the book Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors to honor the people who mentored and shed light on the way for her.

John DunneJust a month ago, we lost someone who started inspiring us in college and continued to do so up until his death. John Dunne was a prolific writer who taught at the University of Notre Dame for over 50 years. He was a great lover of God who saw life as a journey with God through time – a great adventure of which death was, perhaps, the most adventuresome part. Continue reading

Making friends with chores: Never too old to learn

Neither Bill nor I grew up in households where we shouldered especially demanding chores. Bill cut the lawn and took out the trash, but his mother once confided that she did me no favor by laundering, ironing and putting away his clothes for him.  In my family we were just expected to help out with whatever was needed. That might mean working in the garden, setting and clearing the table, or odd jobs.  And the easiest way was considered the best. This looseness around chores led to some interesting consequences early in our marriage. We often had a messy house. The first time I washed Bill’s shirts I put any that weren’t permanent press in a laundry bag to iron later. Several years and a couple of moves later we finally threw out the untouched laundry bag.

We carried our family of origin patterns over into our child-rearing. We tended to clean what we needed to when it seemed to need it rather than on a regular basis. Our kids helped out with things, but didn’t have regular chores. We more or less got the job done, but in a fairly undisciplined and sometimes untimely fashion. At some point when we could afford it we paid people to do the heavier duty cleaning of our house.

So, living in a house where we all have regular chores that need to be done at specific times has been a new and interesting experience. We IMG_2639have a chore for five weeks at a time and then switch. This cycle I sweep the kitchen courtyard on Wednesdays and the St. Francis courtyard on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Because this is falling leaf season, I also put out the yard waste I’ve swept up for curbside pickup on Thursday evening. Continue reading

What makes a home

Coming back from our last trip, I realized how much Beacon Hill Friends House had become home. I began wondering what it is that makes a place a home. I imagine it’s different for everybody.

For me, the physical attributes for a place to be home are minimal: good light, a comfortable place to sit, books (of course!), a few cherished things and easy access to outdoors. It helps if the place is relatively neat, but that doesn’t always happen with us.

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The physical environment is the least of it for me. Primarily it’s about the people. First, I’d have to say, home is where Bill is. We’ve been married twice as long as we lived before marriage. Home is where we sheltered children and aging parents. But, we sheltered them more with ourselves than with a specific physical environment.

Home is a place where it’s ok to be who and how you are. Not long after returning from a trip I was sitting in the kitchen writing while one housemate made dinner and various people wandered through. I could have gotten more done in the quiet of the library. But, I woke up really crabby that day – jet-lagged and discouraged by the clutter in our room. Continue reading

Eking meaning from my first black eye

carol shinerIt was just before lunch and I was happily striding down Chestnut Street, rushing to fetch that Volvo we’re either going to keep or sell.

I never made it to the car. Catching my toe on a loose brick, I planted my face on the brick sidewalk. Luckily for my face, my right hand broke the fall a bit. Not so lucky for my hand. Sure changed my plans for the day. Instead of reading, writing, walking and playing with our granddaughter, I spent the day at urgent care and radiology, icing and resting. I was incredibly lucky — no broken bones, just a very sore hand and my first ever shiner.

I will also admit to a shaken psyche. One of the ways I calm myself when shaken is to try to make meaning from the event. Writer Carolyn Myss suggests that we treat the unexpected in our lives as a form of spiritual direction. The fall was certainly unexpected — what might it direct my attention toward? Continue reading