Friday, March 21, 2008

Tending the Soil, Trusting the Season

Fragments I don't see relating, but want to put together anyway:

Sometime today there will be a procession through my mostly Dominican neighborhood, honoring Good Friday. There will be a priest on a megaphone, calling out lines in a musical chant, the congregants responding likewise. Actual songs will be interspersed through all this. To my no doubt unsophisticated ear, I always hear an echo of the Muslim call to prayer in all this, especially the priest's amplified chanting, but also in some of the hymns. I imagine the rituals of prayer coming down through the ages, starting in Moorish Spain, changing from Arabic to Spanish, Muslim to Christian, emigrating to the Caribbean, and ending up outside my doorstep in New York City, still retaining a bit of all those flavors. I may be completely off about the influences... but even so, I like the feeling it gives me that at the heart of true blessing, reverance and thanksgiving, we are more alike than not. At least that's how I see it today.

To answer a question from new friend Butch, the mask accompanying the post below is not the River Liffy, but the Green Man. This link is by no means the only place you can find information on him, he's an old fellow with lots of meanings. Put loosely, I understand him as the male energy of life, specifically a Celtic manifestation, a sort of Father Nature, and with particular ties to Pan, Dionysus, Herne the Hunter, and all the other male gods of Springtime. As such maybe he'd be a better accompaniment to today's post, but he seemed like the right image for my St. Paddy's Day post. Yeats, Ó Searcaigh, and I all connect with Pagan impulses in our own ways, I would say, and the idea of 'going back to sources' explored in both poems made me think of this guy. My sister and brother-in-law gave him to me a few years ago, and he hangs on my wall, across from my bed (one of the few guardian masks I didn't make myself), smiling down on me each morning as I wake up in my gritty urban fifth-floor walk-up.

I don't think St. Patrick would have minded.

By a funny coincidence though, I do have a small River Liffy mask, a gift from my mother a few years ago. Liffy hangs on the edge of the wall dividing the living room from the hallway. She's one of the first things I see when I walk through my front door, shrouded behind my exuberant golden pothos, twining itself around three of the walls. My sense of who she is to me is much more unformed (okay, just so Java's heart will go pitter-pat, I'll say 'inchoate'. Happy Easter, Dear). I'm always glad to see her though. And I do love Dublin. If you enlarge the lower photo, you'll also see that behind her hangs a beautifully calligraphed print of the Yeats poem that I copied out in the previous post, so while I didn't post her with the poem, she is close to it in my world. I don't know what all the lovely coincidences in Butch's question mean, if anything, but I liked them.

Years ago I heard a fantastic joke on TV, from Art Buchwald (yes, that takes you to Wikipedia, it was the most concise biography I could find; feel free to do your own search). I won't do justice to Buchwald's telling of it (it really loses something if you don't hear it told in his New York accent), but here it is.

A man decides that he wants to win the lottery, so he begins praying to God for this, every day. Years go by with the man making this prayer daily, all to know avail. After ten years of this increasingly frantic supplication one day he loses all patience and screams, "God, I've been a good man all these years, why won't you let me win the lottery?"

Suddenly, a voice booms from the heavens.

"Do me a favor! Buy a ticket!"

I fear I have spent a lot of my life being that man. One of the lessons I seem to have to relearn repeatedly is how to find the balance between taking action, and -for lack of a better description- going with the flow. The wellspring of joy and creativity in my life, particularly as it relates to performing, has felt very blocked for years now, and I haven't done much recently to address that (unless we include periodically moping about it on my blog). Spring is one of my favorite times of year, in part because of its reminder that life is reborn, growth occurs, rejuvenation does happen, it just happens according to its own time-table, not mine.

And yet... this doesn't mean I can just sit back. I still need to plant the seeds. For long stretches of time that may be all I do. I'm learning to trust fallow periods more as I age, trusting that just because I can't see it or measure it doesn't mean important growth is going on underground. But that doesn't let me off the hook for doing some work.

Sometimes the soil is sour, depleted or just unsuitable. Sometimes there hasn't been enough water. Sometimes the shoots come up, and it's my job to protect them from late frost and snow, careless feet, or hungry rabbits. Nature will take care of itself just fine without my help, but if I am hoping for specific results, flowers or vegetables say, rather than happy rodents or a rocky front yard, then I have to do some work. Yes, a balance is to be sought. Respect for the forces involved must be maintained. But I mustn't fall into the comfortable laziness (probably really a form of fear), of passivity.

Then there's the other side. Various people in my life are dealing with difficult issues right now, and various caretakers are watching them deal with those issues, trying to help, but often struggling with the recognition, and accompanying guilt, that there is nothing they can do. I feel badly for both people in the equation; both experience a feeling of helplessness, of being at the mercy of forces they can't control, even when they believe they should be able to. While I am reminding myself that I must do the things I can, THEN trust in other forces, many many of my loved ones might want to remind themselves that some things are beyond our power, and even when we do all the 'right' stuff, sometimes things still go wrong. Then we find what to do next. Feeling guilty for failing to protect a loved one is a burden many people subject themselves to understandably, but needlessly.

("Easy for you to say," mutters the chorus... I know, I know. I do it too, sometimes.)

So I hope each of you, in your own way, finds this season a time of rejuvenation, healing or just plain old joyous growth, in whatever way is best for you. Some of us may need to get our asses out there to plant seeds and pull weeds... but some of us may just need to trust that we've done all we can. Do you know which one you are? Are you sure?


Butch said...

Many thanks and well done, Patrick.
You have combined the thoughts of spring and what it means to each of us very well. The Green Man hadn't crossed my mind with I first set eyes on that picture. I think what led me to think of the River Liffy was your title: Healing Waters, and I took picture literally. You Green Man mask is handsome, indeed.

Time to also air out the house along with the tending of our own gardens. ( I know I need to pull a few weeds. ) Thanks again, for the lovely post.

Butch said...

So sorry for all the typos and fragmented words, I must need a new keyboard or a cup of coffee.

I'll try the coffee. ;-)

Brian said...

I'm sorry, there are beautiful sentiments in this post, but they are all obscured by the fact that the goldon pothos in the second photo is REACHING OUT OF THE COMPUTER SCREEN TO GET ME!!!

Butch said...

(A returning thought)
" ...I don't know what all the lovely coincidences in Butch's question mean, if anything, but I liked them." ... - Patrick
It is my thinking that the Celtic soul runs deeply and those of us draw our being from that source. I am not surprised that you and I connect on different plane. Coincidence? Perhaps. ( and perhaps, not. ) ;-)
(OK, I think three responses in one day is starting to look like a stalker. I will take a few steps backward to the sidelines and behave myself.);-)

Patrick said...

Brian: go on, click on the photo. The second one. I dare ya. Double-dog dare ya.

I thought you were only scared of the spider plants. This one too? It doesn't really have little root balls to sink into your flesh while you sleep, does that help?

Butch: I have been telling myself to clean house for days now, especially since I've had the time... maybe tomorrow I will finally get to it. I did take out the garbage and a mountain of recycling today though. Airing out... good idea. And I'm not much good with typing until I've had my coffee too. After two cups though, I become bad againg. Speedy, but bad. It's a delicate balance. Yes, it wouldn't surprise me that we connect on some Celtic twilit plane. The level of synchronicity in my life, which had been at an all time low, has been rising steadily since I made blogger friends. Perhaps we'll discover that the internet is surprisingly well-suited for finding our larger webs of soul friends. And maybe you haven't been reading me long enough to know this, but I am unlikely EVER to encourage you or anyone to behave himself.

Joe Jubinville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Jubinville said...

Is yours illusive too?
here he is

Butch said...

May you have a joyous Eastertide with Spring just around the corner.
It was cold and foggy this morning but the plants are reaching for the sun.

Joe Jubinville said...

Ach! Try again...

Nice spring meditation, Patrick. Planting, stirring... Your intimations of discontent strike me as vernal too.

I have a green man of my own. I bought him for $15. at a defunct rollerdisco on Staten Island. Judging by the grape leaves get-up, he's evidently a Bacchus (the refinement verging on decadence suggest the Roman rather than the Greek character). Of course I like his facial expression. I'm assuming he was part of a fountain. I'm sure he's your Green Man's cousin.

Patrick said...

Joe: Wow, this guy was really giving you trouble, wasn't he. Your first message showed up in my email, but not here. I think he probably is Bacchus; he likes causing mischief, after all. But yes, they do look like cousins, don't they. Were the piercing blue eyes there when you got him, or was that your addition?

I think the line (slightly changed) "I bought a green man of my own, for $15, at a defunct rollerdisco on Staten Island" would be the great opening line to a short story, don't you? Can't tell you how much I loved reading those words.

Jess said...

I can tell you one nice way to celebrate spring: come out this way several times and enjoy the various stages of spring as everything blooms! :) And you can help a hound recuperate, too!

Patrick said...

Jess: as always, your generous spirit warms my heart. I'm sure I'll get to see your garden in many stages. How is Dodgie doing? Has he forgiven you yet?

Java said...

I read this post a couple of days ago, and it set my mind to wondering. And wandering. I wanted to respond at the time, but words failed me then. I'm not much better now.
Some of what you say here about knowing when to take action and when to sit back and, I don't know, reflecting, listening, learning? Anyway, it reminds me of the serenity prayer, of which I'm sure you are aware.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Patrick said...

Java: Thank you, Dear, for that. A dear friend was reminding me of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi recently, and before I remembered that one, I thought of this prayer instead. I find a similar message to them both, actually. Do the work we can, recognize what it is... but let go of the things we can't control. St Francis definitely suggests more actions, but they're good ones.