Monday, February 25, 2013

Nate of Las Vegas Part IV

I turned to face Nate and Roger, and without hesitating I said,
“it’s the way I learned to be since I was young.” (in a fake, thick southern accent),
Nate smiled,
“Yep she’s great.”
He came over and put his arm around me and continued.
 “Well, now you see Roger why I wanted to come in so much… its’ just that I’ve got an architectural mind… it’s a passion, maybe too much of one.”
He took his arm off of my waist and made a whispering gesture towards Roger.

“...I must say, you are one of the best teacher’s I’ve ever had.”
Roger beamed, I thought he might explode with pride.  He motioned for us to come closer to him.
“Come here you two...I'll show you something, but this isn’t part of the tour.  For general people.   Let’s just say, if you like what you saw here, you are going to really, really like this.”
We stepped closer to Roger.  He leaned forward and whispered,
“There is a deal though.”
Nate interrupted,
“Well of course there is Roger, you know I’m good for it.”
“Yes..” Roger continued.
“I will drive and drop you off but you must show yourself out.  I’m encouraging you to take your time, I guarantee you will like this.” 
I was certain that the deal was going to be something denser, more severe.  We nodded and Roger turned, starting to walk.  We followed him to the jeep.

Roger drove us up a narrow path behind the main building.  The area was more secluded.  All of a sudden he stopped the jeep.  I couldn’t see anything.  He pointed up the hill to a grove of trees.  I squinted and then saw he was pointing to an adobe dome inside the grove of trees.  We opened the door, jumped out and waved to Roger.  He smiled, waved back and drove off. 

Nate started to walk ahead me.  I watched him go.  I looked to his feet, they were bare, he had no shoes on. 
This entire time, all through the debate, all through the tour, he had no shoes.  He climbed, without hesitation up the gravel hill.  I took a moment longer and then followed.  We walked following each other all the way around the adobe dome, it looked like half an eggshell sitting on top of the earth.  We ran our hands along its’ side put our face to the cool exterior. It was handsome.  Roger was right, this was something special…we stood back and admired the form.  From our silence Nate spouted,
“Hey, a door!”

I hadn’t seen the door the first time we walked around the building.  Surely, it wasn’t an unlocked door…it’d be the only thing open since the campus was closed for summer break.  We stood together a moment longer.  I stepped away from Nate, went over to the handle and tried to pull it open.  It swung wide. I opened my mouth and turned back to Nate.  He ran up to the door and we both went inside.

The door closed behind us with a gentle click.  We froze in silence.  We'd been swallowed by the dome.  We stood together engulfed by a silent, stark white room, bathed by dozens of rainbows. Prism after glass prism built into the walls cast rainbows on every surface.  Something happened, in a moment, maybe a cloud came over the sun.  All the rainbow patterns shifted.  First they disappeared then they reappeared again, but somewhere else.  We’d been eaten by a hologram, trapped by a circular rainbow room.
“What is this?” I asked into the air.
Nate didn’t say anything.  I looked to him and then around the room.  The circle was offset by a large empty alter in the center of several light rainbows.  It felt like the construction was based the ratio of light traveling through the prisms, cast onto the floor. 

Off one side of the circle, beyond the altar, was an offshoot, a tiny hallway.  We both walked towards the hallway.   In the corner was a small closet with many neatly stacked red, velvet pillows and a small bathroom. As soon as Nate saw the pillows, he returned to his exuberant self.  Excited, he jumped to the stack and grabbed an armload of pillows.  Most of the stack fell over.  He sprinted out of the room up to the altar, and threw the pillows down,
“Let’s meditate….now!”
His voice echoed and bounced off the walls.  The rainbows remained unchanged. 

He made two crooked stacks of pillows and patted the stack next to him for me to come and sit.  I hesitated, I hadn’t meditated a day in my life.  I looked to the seat and took my time to walk over.  We faced each other, rainbows danced down in between us.  For a long time he looked at my face without saying anything.  I looked back at his face, a rainbow bounced off his cheeks.  His looking didn’t bother me as much as some people’s looking might.  Strangely, It seemed appropriate in the moment.  After a long time, he smiled at me like he’d finally figured something out and said,
“You look like a lion.”
I had already breathed in anticipation of saying something to break the silence, but his statement knocked the wind out of what I was going to say.  And I didn’t have response for this type of comment.
I paused with my mouth half open.  He continued to look at me.   I closed my mouth and tried to make some conversation out of this.
“Well, that seems right.  I guess if I was going to look like an animal….”
“Well, you do, he interrupted, and anyways, I’m a goat.  We make a good team, we’re different though.”
His expression was serious.  Then he continued…
“Okay…I’m a Capricorn, and let’s see, I now that I know you seem like a Pisces but my first thought said Aries or Leo…and you do look like a lion.”
I waited a little longer he seemed in mid-thought, and then continued,
“ You have this direct and fluid sense about you, like I can see the lion and the fish.  Hmmm?  When I saw you at the campground, I think I thought Aries, but in your company, it’s Pisces.”
I waited until his prediction was finished.  And said,
 “Well….I am on the Pisces-Aries cusp.”
He scratched his chin.  I felt like I needed to clarify something to him,
“So….what…about astrology I’ve met people who don’t look like animals of their birth month….what about Libras?”
Nate held his breath and became rigid, like was struck by something.  He straightened up and faced away from me as if he was turning to an assembly to give a speech.  I watched him move.  It was like my comment triggered some sort of script to go off in him, or that he remembered something.  He began to speak addressing the space in front of him, 
“Humans are a combination of all animals.  What people don’t realize is that they can call up on any of them at a certain time depending on ability and knowledge.  If you know how, you can wear the essence of an animal.  If you are a meat eater you must be prepared to work with the psychological disorganization traceable to eating meat - because you are eating the essence of the moment of a life.”
He took a long breath shrugged his shoulder up and down and continued without turning to me,
“Certain red meat can cause your shoulders to arch forward and your body to puff up.  And take a physical form you may not be ready for.”
He turned to me with wide eyes,
“You may not have noticed, but I have a broken foot now… that is why I am not wearing shoes, but my bones bend they do not break, this is because what I have chosen to consume.”
I looked at his feet.  I couldn’t tell.  I wondered why he called it broken if his bones don’t break.  I wondered if he meant was that it was sprained.   I wanted to ask him about this, but he wasn’t finished.  His whole body was facing me now, it was like he was talking directly into me.
“My plan for death involves a spacecraft and suicide.”
This seemed about right for him, I thought.  A young man marooned in New Mexico. I wasn’t surprised until he addressed me specifically.
“and I think you should start studying some science now because I need scientists aboard and I would like to have you with me.”
I thought two things 1. Absolutely not and 2……
“Well what type of science do you think would help you?”
My mouth asked before deciding to ask.
He continued,
“The science of an “I.”
He waved his hands above his head in the ethers.
“….where space and time always exist, and everything is happening at once, like now.”
I followed his thought and then hung out in the silence,
 “Okay, you’d like me to study the science of an “I”?”
( be continued)
Allison Distler

Monday, February 11, 2013

Paying It Forward

Paying It Forward

For many years I have written volumes about the dysfunction that was rampant in my family as I was growing up. Today I want to write about the positive legacy that I inherited from both my mother and my father.

Since the tragic shootings at Newtown, I’ve been thinking quite a bit the idea of the 26 acts of kindness in honor of the people who were slaughtered that day. I think it’s a wonderful idea, but why stop at 26? Why can’t we all just pay it forward every day?

My earliest memories are of my parents helping people out. As I was growing up, it seemed we always had one of my cousins from my mother’s side of the family living with us. They were the children of my mother’s oldest brother, who was married with five children.  He did not take care of his family. I know that my folks kept them from going hungry quite often. They also paid for his oldest child to have orthodontic work done. His teeth came in widely spaced and nearly pointed at a right angle out of his mouth. He ended up with one of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen.  Every time I looked at him, I remembered all those trips we made from Connersville to Indianapolis and how much they changed his life. He went from a very shy self-conscious guy to a confident, handsome young man.

One of my favorite memories revolved around my mother making candy and iced Christmas cookies every year.  She worked in a factory full time, so she would start right after Thanksgiving and work in the evenings or on weekends until she had dozens of beautifully decorated tins filled with her delicious black walnut fudge, peppermint fondant (this was light and fluffy & pink), milk chocolate fudge with English walnuts, peanut brittle and her amazing iced sugar cookies. These were my favorite. She had tin cookie cutters of a Santa face, reindeer, Christmas trees, wreaths and a sleigh. The cookies were always the special treat we left for Santa with some milk.  There were only crumbs left next to the empty milk glass on Christmas morning.

When all of the tins were ready, Mother and Dad would pile my little brother and me in the back seat with the Christmas bounty.  Then we would drive all over Connersville delivering the treats. There was one elderly couple I remember quite well. They had been neighbors of my late Grandma Riebsomer.  I was fascinated with their names. Tillie and Diesel. They had no children and were shut-ins. I can still see the looks on their shining faces when we showed up with our tin of Christmas goodwill for them. Sometimes I would hear them thank Dad for the groceries, so I learned that they gave all year round, not just as Christmas.  I remember feeling so warm inside and realized how good it felt to give, just to be giving, no strings attached. 

This was a powerful platform for a little girl who lived on an ever-shifting landscape. It was something I could do all by myself, no matter what was going on around me. I think that was the beginning of my longing to teach, to help brighten someone’s day or to just make a difference in some small way. 

When I got married my husband and I continued the tradition of helping because it was the right thing to do. For a lot of our married life we had members from both of our families living with us when they needed help or were transitioning. On Christmas day we invited people who didn’t have families living locally to spend the day with us, lots of food, lots of games, lots of fun.

This semester I’m in the leadership training program. The Writing for a Change Foundation of Bloomington is supporting this training so that we can begin more outreach programs and help enrich our current program for women in the Monroe County Jail. For me, it is a way to honor my parents who modeled paying it forward before it was fashionable to call it that.  I hope I’m making them proud.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ritual Dishwashing

What is ordinary.  Ordinary is washing the dishes, tucking children into bed with a minimum of fuss or dramatic, last minute developments, good or bad. It is turning out the kitchen light and having a chance to breathe, to replay some of the day, maybe share a moment with my spouse, get a healing dose of his perspective. 

I was thinking tonight, as I washed the dishes by hand, how hand washing dishes is a meditative activity for me, and how I persist in doing it most of the time, even though the towering structures I am sometimes forced to erect in my too-small dish drainer  endanger the very dishes I cantilever into it, even after purchasing a highly rated new dishwasher, and even in the face of research that proves it takes less water to do it by machine.

I like the hot, soapy water, and except in the deepest cold of darkest winter, when my hands have chapped, then cracked, then bled multiple times, I prefer not to wear the rubber gloves I remember my mother wearing always, a deep bright yellow still today. The pair I don’t use hangs on the side of the fridge, the faint shape of my fingers still in the latex. 

I know the proper order for washing, glassware first, then cutlery, then tableware, then cooking vessels, after which the water will be far too heavy with the precipitate from dinner to continue. 

I find it satisfying to sink the items one by one, or a few at a time, through the faint, crisp cracklings of the floating layer of suds, and into the water, then to twist the sponge into each narrow glass, around and around the mugs, applying the greenie side to the smooth walls of my own tea mug (so long and dark do I steep my first morning cuppa Cheericup Ceylon). In my life, where I continually beat back mess and clutter to little effect, the simplicity of immersing a dirty vessel into soapy water and having it emerge clean enough to eat off of is no small accomplishment, offering no small satisfaction.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes of handwashing dishes as an ideal meditative activity for practicing mindfulness.  At evening, I wash the dinner dishes after a family meal I have scheduled strenuously  to preserve, while my husband and my oldest walk the dog; the youngest disappears to her busy imaginative life.  I am left alone, with my thoughts, or a sliver of NPR, to put the kitchen back to some semblance of cleanliness and order.  I like to think of the long continuity of hand washers of dishes, almost exclusively women, linking back through time and place throughout history. 

As girls, my sister and I loved a Golden Book entitled Nurse Nancy, about a girl who wanted to grow up to be a nurse, and how all her daily activities presented occasions for imaginative play-nursing, including dishwashing: she would pretend that the pieces of cutlery were wounded soldiers, attentively washing their wounds, drying them carefully, and laying them in their beds in the silverware divider in the infirmary-drawer.  I found this unimaginably romantic and clever, even though I never aspired to be a nurse.  I admired, instead, investing one's daily life so thoroughly and observantly with one's feelings and thoughts.  (Years later, I learned as a parent that there was a very gender-unneutral companion book to Nurse NancyDoctor Dan; I am pleased to say that my oldest daughter identified totally with the child who wants to be a doctor, rather than absorbing the lesson intended for girls to become a nurse.)

Dishwashing is the final, least glamorous stage of the essential, nourishing rituals accompanying food preparation and presentation.  When the bellies are happily full, the pleasure at the presentation of the dishes has faded, and attention has turned elsewhere, it suits my temperament to make this lesser phase of commensality my domain. 

 Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse