“STAR-GUIDED” – a Christmas Fable

Long ago, when I lived in New Hope, this story came to me as a dream.  I typed it (no computers yet), hoping someday to publish it, among a series of Transition Tales.  Life overtook me in one way and another, so that dream has not (yet) been realized.  On this Solstice Night, the night of the return of the light, the beginning of the season of miracles, I give you my “Star-Guided”, wrapped in starlight and stardust.  (In those days, my splendid Himalayan cat was “Stardance.”) May this story make your hearts dance.

STAR-GUIDED

We are striding Bethlehem’s dark streets with curious urgency.  We know where we are headed, although none has been to Bethlehem-of-Judea before this electric night.  All is eerily still, the entire town asleep save for our small band of travelers.  The streets here are like mazes.  They are rough underfoot.

I walk gingerly, afraid of turning an ankle in our haste.  My tall daughter, Catherine, strides beside me.  Each of us is impeded by a long light traveling dress and thicker cloak, which stir up street dust as we go.  Upon our feet are leathern slippers too fragile for such journeying.  Her companion, the knight, Galen, is safe enough, encased as he is in bright armor.  Merlin shuffles, as always.  His robes, as are his habit, are askew.  His hair is all-a-tumble.  Every so often, his starred cap tumbles off, and he scurries back through the dark dust to retrieve it.  Merlin, mercifully, carries a pole with a swinging lantern.  Its fat yellowed candle casts pools of honeyed light before our feet.  When he is not chasing his hat, the Merlin cheerfully leads our procession.

The dwellings, what I can see of them, seem sculpted of clay.  They have a pink-grey cast by lamplight.  The moon this night is somehow obscured.  There are a few stars, which deepen our shadows, purple against the sand-hued roads.

We are responding to an unfamiliar star.  Either because it is lower or simply brighter than the rest, it seems to be playing a game with us.  If we start to take a turn that is not right, that star flutters and dims.  When we turn in the correct direction, the star grows steadier, more intense.

n this way, we find ourselves at a nondescript hostelry.  Jarring sounds of revelry spill into its courtyard, startling after all the silence of the town.  Out in back, where Merlin leads us almost stealthily, quiet reigns.  In this dusky quarter, I am increasingly grateful for his lantern.

The Wizard lifts his light on high, revealing a small outbuilding.  In its dim interior, I can just make out the form of a very young woman, seated next to a low wooden container lined with straw.  From the center of that straw emanates a mysterious glow, soft as candlelight but much steadier.

I realize Whom and what we have been seeking.  My knees are trembling.  All of my being is drawn to that hushed glow.

I am startled by the young Mother’s youth.  She is not much in years beyond my tall teen-aged Catherine.  Petite, slender, the woman of Judea looks too frail and much too inexperienced to be anyone’s mother.  Let alone…!

hind her, nearly hidden in shadow, is the man who must be her husband.  He looks more like a kindly uncle.  “Joseph,” I think, “seems a bit confused.  More like Merlin’s usual mode.  Merlin, on the contrary, tonight is clear as bells.”

Joseph seems a good deal older than Mary.  It may be just the differences, — in background, in training.  He is fulfilling his role as guardian.  Yet he is not of her milieu.  Most of what has been happening to him in recent months must have been baffling.  Nonetheless, as we all must do, the man trusts and serves.  I feel deep empathy for all that lies before him.

And I am awash in compassion for Mary.  Perhaps because of Merlin’s presence, I can read this girl’s emotions.  I never before suspected her profound loneliness.  Her cross is not only that she has born this wondrous Child only to lose Him.  Her cross is that she must carry out all to which she has agreed, isolated from all who understand.  All those who had taught, those who could reassure, are far, far from this stableyard.

Although the Flight unto Egypt has always before seemed a terrible ordeal for parents and child, I now see it as blessing.  Once there, she will discover for a few years, those who know the full story of this rare family and its many destinations.  Yet on this night, and throughout so many of her recent years, with the exception of one small mentor in the Temple, Mary has been in exile.

The Child lies sleeping on golden hay, meant to nourish creatures of the Inn’s farmyard.  The very grasses emit rays.

We are all drawn to our knees, as much by Mary’s courage and serene obedience, as by the Presence of the Babe.  The gleam of Merlin’s lantern flitters across the Baby’s eyes, waking Him.  He blinks and an almost-smile plays across the Infant features, as light rays play like rainbows across the tiny face.  He waves tiny hands as though to catch the Wizard’s glimmers.

Joseph rouses himself, suddenly aware that they have visitors.  Drowsily he waves a greeting, then retires to the darkest corner of the stable.  It is as though, with us among them, that tired traveler can rest.  He has endured so much, without understanding, without complaint.  Joseph’s role is merely to love and to protect.  It is enough.  The man’s legs now, literally, give out beneath him.  He settles onto straw bales for his sleep.

My eyes, accustomed now to gloom, become aware of cattle.  Nestled behind a barrier of wood, their breath steams in the night air.  These cows have huge bittersweet eyes, that seem to widen as the Baby moves His tiny hands.  Their skin is the hue of milk chocolate.  There are smaller creatures here with us – sheep, and delicate, silky goats.  I don’t remember goats at that Stable, but here they are – dainty, with long hair and perky faces, hooves like the dancing princesses, like the ones who prance through meadows above Zermatt.  The goat’s eyes are cinder-bright.  Their cloaks gleam in the lanternlight and Infant-glow.  I feel warmed by the gaze, the breath, the presence of the barnyard creatures.  About our feet are hens, too, scratching at straws, searching diligently as close as they can be to the Child.

Outside, somehow, the skies grow brighter.  It becomes increasingly easy to see.

Merlin rises and approaches the child/woman who guards the rough manger.  He fumbles in that voluminous wiry beard.  “I know it was here when I came!,” he growls, in his absent way.  “Sorry, Madame, it won’t be but a moment.”  Then the old man pulls out one of the tiniest living creatures I have ever seen.  A miniscule saw-whet owl, it is not so big as one of Mary’s hands, folded in her slender lap.  The tall Wizard bends, cupping the owl in both gnarled palms.  The creature snuggles daintily onto Mary’s right shoulder, nuzzling into her corn-silk hair.  Mary looks obviously enchanted with Merlin’s gift.  As she claps her hands with delight, we are all aware of her own nearness to childhood.

Galen next moves.  In his silvery armor, helmet in the crook of his left arm, the boy kneels, formal as he would have been in the Initiation ceremonies.  The plume of his hat dances, catching the Baby’s dark eyes.  It is then that light from Merlin’s lantern falls upon the gilt cross on Galen’s silvery breast.  The Babe is riveted to that image, reaching out, then still.  All time stops.

Galen breaks the spell with his mellifluous voice:  “Crystals I bring,” says the lad.  He lays bright offerings into Mary’s slender hands with a caressing gesture.  I am reminded of a game we played as boys and girls – “Button-Button.”  Then, prayer-shaped hands cradled a button secretly into someone’s matching hands.  Everyone then was to guess whose hands held the gift.

“These crystals are for you, Maria,” Galen explains, slipping into her Latin name, as though from long familiarity.  “Hold them,” he instructs.  “Bring the Light with them, to warm, to comfort, the Babe, yourself.  You will be needing them upon your journey.  For the duration of your time in this place, lay them in His cradle as He lies.”

Mary lifts up first one angled crystal, then another, turning them this way and that, in starlight, in lamplight.  She runs attuned fingers over every facet, studies all the power dancing in their depths.  Mary reaches out her right hand, — crystals and all –, touching Galen, light as a kiss, on each cheek.

It is my daughter’s turn.  In her soft dress and flowing cloak, my daughter has a new queenliness I had not before acknowledged.  She towers over the young Mother.  Catherine’s towhead tresses seem to glow, against the darker gold of Mary’s hair.  As Catherine leans over the Baby, taking one of His tiny hands into her own, her long hair brushes His little face.  Something like a smile flitters over Him, as though it tickled, and there is a sound, very like new laughter.

Suddenly, in the icy stillness of that Bethlehem night, Catherine lifts her voice in song.  We are startled, all of us, by the pure notes in the clear cold air.  The songs sound ancient – Medieval, I would guess, or Welsh.  Starlight skitters among us, and I think of music of the spheres.  I realize, my daughter is singing the first Christmas Carols.

The Infant turns, then, from Catherine to the rest of us.  His eyes are not only dark, but also golden.  The only name for that color is “toffee”, for that includes their uncanny softness.  I watch the Child watch us.  He knows who we are.  He has expected us.  Through His awareness, I realize that we fill the role of cosmic “Magi”, Merlin above all, first visitors to honor this rare King, until the other Kings arrive.  They will be accompanied by very earthy camels, guided by their own heavenly voices and specialized stars.

Through those gilded eyes, I see the Baby’s emotions, as I could his Mother’s.  There is something familiar yet unknown in those bronze depths.  The only name I can give for this is shock.  So must we all have looked, first opening to Earth Plane, realizing our choices, recognizing companions…

Peace floods the stable.  We bask in unconditional love.  Then the Child, once again, sights the cross on Galen’s armor.  The newborn hands open.  Where light rays had poured, when he’d reached up to play with Catherine’s bright hair, now there are shadows.  I recognize those shadows – somewhere between bruise and blood.  Stigmata.  I turn at once toward Mary.  Her sweet eyes are riveted upon those hands.

I have not given a gift.  My own hands have been seriously emptied by life, by the times.  I rise, then, move instinctively to Mary.  I embrace her girlish shoulders, as I would any new mother.  “How wonderful you are!,” I murmur.  “How brave!  Such a beautiful Son!”  All the phrases women have said to each other at such moments from the dawn of language, we exchange.  At the end, I add, “I wish you joy.”

She looks up with a plea I fully hear.

“You are weary, Mary.  It is time for your rest.  You cannot keep vigil all night, every night, alone.  He is safe here, safe with us.  Go.  Go over to your Joseph.  Sleep.  We will watch the night with your precious Boy.”

She looks hesitantly from one of us to the other, as if to gain permission.  All of us are nodding in permission, the stately Merlin above all.  He retrieves Strigi, the little saw-whet owl, and actually shoos Mary over toward the corner.  She looks back at her Little One, still not sure.  He stirs, restlessly.

I reach down, lift up the Child, cradling him easily upon one hip.  It all comes back.  The awkwardness I knew with my own firstborn, this surety now.  How grateful I had been , in those long-ago days, for practiced arms, arms that were sure and even relaxed around my daughters.  The Baby senses my ease, curling naturally against my side.  Mary looks relieved and moves, indeed, toward Joseph.  My second-born rises and removes her periwinkle-blue cloak.

“Mary,” Catherine urges, “here.  Please cover yourself with this.  And sleep.  Deeply and well.  Dream of all the joys you will have, He and you together.”  Mary smiles up at my daughter, accepting the soft warmth.  She lifts her right hand in a good-night gesture, revealing the sparks of Galen’s crystals.

I settle the Infant lightly into the crook of my left arm.  He curls a tiny hand naturally, instinctively, around my forefinger.  He is rest itself.  A soft light radiates from the small body, merging with the light of Merlin’s lantern and the spill of stars.  In hushed tones, Catherine and Galen begin to sing lullabyes.

Dawn light comes all too soon.  Outside, in rustling trees that sound like palms, birds I do not know begin to call to one another.  In the inn courtyard, there is the jangle and clatter of first departing travelers.  We overhear inquiring voices, simple country accents.  These will be the shepherds, asking as they have been led to ask.

Skies overhead fill with angels, glorias.  Our vigil is rapidly ending.

Catherine and Galen move swiftly, tenderly to the sleeping Family.  They urge the young parents to rise, help them smooth and brush their clothing.  Merlin provides water in a generous metal dipper.  Mary gracefully removes my daughter’s travel cloak, clasping it about Catherine’s lofty neck.  “Thank you,” Mary whispers.  “I shall never forget your songs, your cloak.  There will come a time when you may require the same of me.  Call upon me.  Remember…”

I settle the Babe into His Mother’s eager arms.  Her look of joy wars with full realization, of all that has been foretold.  Mary presses her cheek against my own, nodding in silent gratitude.  She resumes her post.  Joseph stands sturdily behind her, one hand on the staff which helped to bring them to this haven.  The Baby nuzzles, urgently, begins to nurse.

There is the rustle of straw as shepherds kneel.

h Merlin in the lead, we all fade into, then out of the stable shadows.  I give the silken goats a lingering caress as we depart.

 

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“HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE…” Memorial Day Thoughts

SEE NAOMI KLEIN WINS SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE – A.M. AFTER I POSTED THIS BLOG, below

This scene from Chatham, Massachusetts, which I call “Tethered Steeple” could also be titled “Tethered Flag.”  This morning I passed the Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Department, en route home from having kayaked to the Fishing Bridge and back.  Our firemen had created their Memorial Day sign:  “HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE.”

Tethered Tower  Chatham Scenes 002

Tethered Tower, Chatham, Mass.

Regular NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my grave concern for citizens’ rights in our land.  My immediate thought, upon seeing that noble firehouse sign this morning was, “Well, they all seem to have died in vain.”

1 1776 1876 Flag

1776 1876 American Flag from Internet

I worry a great deal about what our Founding Fathers must think of vanished liberty in so-called America.  About everyone’s being treated as a criminal in airports, and now even in museums and theatres (Manhattan, not yet in Princeton).

Lawrenceville Fire Department 002

Lawrenceville Fire Department Mailbox

I am particularly devastated that land, –even that preserved in perpetuity-, is being punctured already with PIPELINE pipes of hideous yellow – color of 21st-Century tyranny.

Pipeline Precursor D&R Canal Princeton July 2013 038

PIPELINE: “We have met the enemy, and he is …” Fossil Fuel Corporations.

This land is no longer OUR LAND, as the lovely song insisted when we were fighting our own government to end the Vietnam War.  “…and all around us, a voice was singing, this land was made for you and me.”       Reality seems to me, “this land was made for fossil fuels!”

Cape May Half-Mast Christmas 2015

Cape May Point Flag at Half Mast in Gale

The fossil fuel industry would have it otherwise, as would many so-called ecological organizations, significantly funded by those whose motto is “Drill, Baby, Drill!”, (referred to by the brilliant author, Naomi Klein, as ‘Big Green.’  (This Changes Everything — Capitalism vs. the Climate”.)

Bayhead Flag in April April wind 2016

Bay Head New Jersey Flag at Ocean where Sandy Landed, in high wind of April 2016

I don’t know what the rest of you do to counter these dire trends.  What would George and Ben and John and Abigail and Thomas (Paine) and Thomas (Jefferson) have done, faced with the restrictions and constrictions of liberty in our times?

Borden's Towne

Nearby Town of Revolutionary Fervor, including only home owned by the rightfully fiery Thomas Paine

Please note how many of my excursion pictures seem to be taken in high winds…  We should stop blaming the situation of ‘climate change’, and begin accurately targeting fossil fuel magnates, politicians bought by them, the organizations founded by and funded by them, who permit the continued ruination of our country, our Planet.

Chatham Light Storm-blown Flag jpg

Chatham Light and Flag in Wild Pre-Storm Wind, 2015

Memorial Day used to be called ‘Decoration Day.’  It was created to honor Civil War dead, and there were supposedly two different such days, — one for the North and one for the South.  Somehow they were, –after a suitable lapse of time–, merged into Memorial Day.

Maine Cemetery Old Headstones

Maine Cemetery, Harpswell, Old Headstones in Late Light

As children, families went to the family graveyards, honoring deceased relatives.  We did not, but many did, [and in Salem and Cumberland Counties of New Jersey, many still do], have a memorial meal at the grave site.  When we visited, we cleaned the graves, weeded, watered, brought new flowers, and parents reminisced.  Our ancestors lived on through these rituals.

O Say Can You See at Chatham Fish Pier

“O, Say, Can You See?” at Chatham Fish Pier, October 2015

Turns out we were ‘doing it wrong,’, as this day is supposed to be about honoring those who died in war for our country.

1 Starry Stars Flag

Starry Stars “Old Glory” from Internet

Lawrenceville Fire Department 015

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave – Lawrenceville’s 9/11 Heroes

“HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE.”

Let’s KEEP it that way.  Write legislators, editors, heads of ruinous Fossil Fuel organizations.  There is a Women’s movement, called “Take Back the Night.”

We need to pledge OUR lives, OUR fortunes, OUR sacred honor, if there is any such entity in these troubled times.

We need a TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY mentality.  Our land needs to be OUR land again.

Beekman Arms Flags Rhinebeck NY

Full Glory, Rhinebeck NY: Beekman Arms Inn and Tavern – Oldest Continuously Operating in America – since Pre-Revolutionary Days

 

Naomi Klein awarded 2016 Sydney Peace Prize.

We are very proud to share the news that Naomi has been awarded the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Naomi will be travelling to Sydney, Australia in November to accept the award and attend an array of events organised by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Tickets to her award speech at the Sydney Town Hall on November 11th are available here.

We hope this will be a powerful opportunity to continue to bring conversations around social justice and climate change into the discourse in Australia as well as support the work of social movements across the region.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Naomi and look forward to welcoming her to Australia in November.

Edward Said London Lecture

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. – Naomi Klein Edward Said London Lecture May 2016.

On May 3rd Naomi delivered the Edward Said London Lecture – if you haven’t had a chance yet I urge you to read or watch her powerful address.

In solidarity,
Alex for This Changes Everything team

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VETERANS’ DAY — A QUESTION OF FORGIVENESS

Hawaiian Lei of Double Orchids

Hawaiian Lei of Double Orchids

In the 1990’s, I was asked to read my poems on Hawaii to a friend’s class at Chaminade University.  Little did I know that her classroom was on Pearl Harbor.  I had been a child when that horrific bombing took place.  It was December.  I had a newborn little sister, soon to be part of our family Christmas that year.  It was the Christmas that never came, –our beloved America having been attacked, the world at war, so many wars.

U.S.S. Arizona Burning, Pearl Harbor, 1941

U.S.S. Arizona Burning, Pearl Harbor, 1941

We were all taught, as the South Pacific song insists, to hate.  Especially to hate Hitler, Mussolini (“was a meanie”) and all the “Japs.”

When you’re that little yourself, those teachings go deep.

No way could I have imagined taking steps onto Pearl Harbor, let alone to read poems (some of which were anti-military, as in “when are we going stop bombing Kahoolawe?”), to soldiers, –to men and women in uniform, at that sacred site.

Hawaiian soldiers taught me, in that room, in that class, “We don’t bomb Kahoolawe any more.  Each weekend, I lead a detail, removing materiel from the island….  When we are finished, we will have a healing ceremony.”

So my poem, with its longing to wrap the stafed, yes wounded, exposed red flesh/soil of that beleaguered island in white gauze, to comfort her, brought a happy ending.

The next morning, my friend (Bernadette Thibodeau, a year older, with whom I’d grown up in Michigan) and I returned to Pearl to make our own ritual visit to the Arizona, still beneath the waves, still holding its dead since 1941.

The black and white films of the bombing did not work that day.

We filed out of the theatre into searing sunlight, joining a long and silent line of mostly Japanese men.

They were all wearing leis.

Hawaiian Lei of Green Leaves

Hawaiian Lei of Green Leaves

No one spoke.

We walked onto the memorial above the doomed ship.

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese moved, one-by-one, to various parts of that structure.

Each one, alone, observed a time of silence.

Then each one removed his lei and softly tossed it onto the waters.

Hawaiian Plumeria Lei

Hawaiian Plumeria Lei

The leis mixed with rainbows from still-leaking oil.

My healing with regard to that country, whom we so wounded, commenced as those leis began to fall.

Diver Touches Drowned U.S.S. Arizona

Diver Touches Drowned U.S.S. Arizona