Progress is a noun, describing forward movement achieved. It’s also a verb, when the accent is on the second syllable, meaning the act of moving as it is occurring. Like sharks swimming in the sea, we have to keep moving or we die. And pilgrims are simply people who are doing the moving with awareness. Unlike vagabonds, pilgrims have a purpose, if not a specific destination. And it is all about the journey and the mindfulness we can bring to it.
Travelling full time in our motorhome is a singular experience. Our lives have been stripped of many non-essentials, possessions, obligations, expectations. Our knapsacks get lighter every day. Yet the experiences of simply living, the exquisite preciousness of the ordinary and mundane wash over us like waves filled with awe and gratitude. To have heat, light and water are wonderful things. And oh! the sheer joy of being level! Food in the fridge and clean clothes! Rain on the roof while we’re sleeping. The brilliant colors of sunrise and sunset framing each day like a jewel.
We know we’re blessed. We’re paying attention. It seems the least we can do.
…and it isn’t even seven o’clock. I woke up this morning at 4:30 to the sound of a big thud…and then nothing. I called out Gil’s name and he didn’t answer at first, so I struggled to free myself of the down comforter on our bed in the loft of the motorhome and hurried down the ladder. It was out of place and wobbled alarmingly. Now I knew what had happened. I told him I was coming to him and he finally responded weakly. I found him partially under the table, lying on his side. I could hear something dripping into a puddle on the carpet and wondered where it was coming from. In the predawn darkness I couldn’t see it, but the stickiness soon told me it was blood. A lot of blood. It was squirting out of his left temple with every heartbeat. He was ashen and trembling. And I was scared. I managed somehow to pick him up off the floor and put him in his recliner. Even with pressure on the gash in his head it wouldn’t stop bleeding, spurting if I let up for a second. I called 9-1-1 and a voice who said her name was Brianna summoned help for us. The two EMTs who arrived shortly (without lights or siren at my request – no need to terrify the neighbors!) confirmed we were going to the hospital and helped me put pants on him for the trip. We rode in the ambulance, me up front with Jeff driving and his partner in back with Gil. I checked him into the Emergency Room at Western Arizona Regional Medical (WARM) Center here in Bullhead City while nurses Theresa and Rachel, medical technician Matt and Dr. Mike all cared for my beloved: checking vitals, trying to stop the arterial spray, taking his medical history, tidily suturing the four centimeters long wound, mopping up the mess to see if anywhere else was bleeding. (It’s difficult to get blood out of a beard.) There were some random abrasions including one on his lip where the horn goes when he plays. He was taken for a head X-ray by Bart, all clear. Dr Mike came back in and said it would be a week before he could get the stitches out. Theresa called us a cab. Hector took us back to Silver View RV Resort and didn’t accept credit cards, but wouldn’t take any money either and helped Gil get into the RV. We were back home in just over two hours. He’s been resting quietly since then, except that it really hurts if he coughs and he’s weak as a kitten. We’re watching the Houston funeral for HW and I’m making him some scrambled eggs and toast. It looks like it may rain today and I don’t feel up to doing laundry even though I should…I’m ready for a nap.
“Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late. The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder. I’m an over forty victim of fate, arriving too late, arriving too late…” A Pirate Looks at Forty
Gil and I just finished reading Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. We started our custom of reading aloud to one another back in 1974. Since we were studying the same lessons at the School of Ministry and spending all our time together it seemed a natural choice and one we have enjoyed ever since. We’ve read all manner of things over the years, but we seem to enjoy rollicking good stories the most. This was most definitely that! I was introduced to Peter Blood by my junior high school French teacher and guidance counselor Janet Roberts. She knew intuitively that my adolescent heart needed a romantic adventure and Sabatini’s classic story set in the seventeenth century Caribbean Sea certainly satisfied. Captain Blood was an honorable man, a surgeon by training, and fell into the disrepute of piracy through an unfortunate series of misadventures. Trying to remain a man of integrity in those circumstances was a real challenge for him, yet he prevailed, even thrived.
So, Johnny Depp wasn’t my first pirate hero. Neither was Errol Flynn who played in the 1935 movie version of “Captain Blood”. Actually, it was Geena Davis in “Cutthroat Island” who became my heroine when I realized that girls could be buccaneers too! Amid her swashbuckling escapades and some seriously questionable personal habits, she too had a code of honor that informed and circumscribed her choices. I like that in a person.
Jimmy Buffet wrote about his longing for a life at sea, free from the constraints of polite society in his song that I quoted above, but I’m not forty, I’m sixty-six and it’s becoming less and less likely I will ever run away to sea. The closest I came to it was the 25 years I spent as the boat minister aboard Woodwind and Woodwind II on Lake Tahoe. Every Saturday during the summer months I got to go sailing on those two beautiful vessels for the modest price of officiating a wedding each time. After my clerical duties were completed I was free to enjoy the wind and spray in my face to my heart’s delight! I never tired of feeling the deck move beneath my feet with the rhythm of the waves, hearing the sails flap wildly then snap to as we came about, knowing that I belonged to the elements in a way I could scarcely fathom. I learned the rolling sailor’s walk so well that I looked odd coming back down the pier after a day’s adventure. There were many nights when I’d go to bed ashore and could still feel the gentle rocking as I fell asleep.
When my Mom was 17 she ran away and joined the circus. It was one of those things she said with pride her whole life long. Somehow, before I grow up, I’m going to run away to sea!
“Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call! I’ve wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all…”
This is when, in the Pacific time zone of the United States, we join together with people all over the planet in meditating for world peace. We began this annual practice many years ago while we were serving our church in Carson City, Nevada. We lived at Lake Tahoe then, a good half hour up the mountain. The winter snows have often begun by this time of year, and I remember one time when our son was quite small and not feeling well. We decided my husband would stay home with our sick child and I would drive down the hill to church the previous evening in order to outrun an anticipated winter storm. When I arrived, I unlocked the building, placed chairs in a circle around a little candle, set my Baby Ben alarm clock brought for that purpose to 3:45 and curled up with a pillow in the corner to get a few hours of sleep. The alarm rang, I awoke and lit the candle, then looked outside to see a beautiful blanket of fresh snow about a foot deep! I sat in the circle of chairs by myself and wished I was home with my family. No one came. That was the last time we scheduled an “event” at church for 4:00 in the morning! We would remind everyone the week before New Year’s Eve Day to set their clocks and join in meditation wherever they happened to be, but I never knew if anyone did. Now, more than thirty years later, we go to sleep so early each evening that waking at four happens easily quite often! Today I awoke with a sense of purpose at the appointed hour and began my quiet practice of centering and focus. And here, alone with Gil in our little motorhome, nestled in the forest of the foothills of the Sierra in California, suddenly I felt the community of souls worldwide, in blissful collective attention. We are not alone. Now, more than ever, there is a groundswell, not just of longing for peace, but actually expecting it to break out, burst forth and flower in our lifetime, before our very eyes. You see, we have to think it’s even possible and to feel our connection with one another in order for it to manifest. And I know it today with more conviction and celebration in my heart than ever before! I bid you Peace!
Not long after we began our motorhome adventure we discovered that the refrigerator door was going to be a problem. If it was not closed with great awareness and intentionality it would fly open while we were driving down the road. This phenomenon led, no doubt, to the equally disconcerting experience of having either the top or the bottom hinge give way completely whilst accessing the interior…sometimes both. After wrestling with this we learned that two fairly short screws were all that held the door in place and that they were simply coming apart for no apparent reason. My beloved, who is a phenomenal improvisational jazz musician, but who has never been a particularly talented handy-man with fixit skills, went to the hardware store and bought two small “C” clamps (in black no less, to match the hinges) which he used to secure the screws and prevent them from working loose. Brilliant! This worked for months. Then we began to notice random pieces of broken black plastic on the floor of the kitchen, near the refrigerator. We looked everywhere but couldn’t see from whence they’d come. We didn’t save the several inch long sections as it was obvious they were never going to be reattached to anything. Then the bottom hinge failed altogether, even with the little clamp. Note: have you ever paid attention to how often every day you open and close your refrigerator? Count them sometime, just for fun. It’s a lot! Okay. So then getting cold food out of there became a complicated process of supporting the door and finding what one wanted at the same time. It was safer if we did it together, one holding the door and the other getting or replacing food, but that wasn’t always convenient. What emerged was a chronic sense of dread, a readiness for disaster to strike at any moment, a hyper vigilance that is exhausting. Why didn’t they just get it fixed, you might ask. Well, Gil was so proud of his fix with the clamps. And they did work, for a while. So we finally had the RV fixer people order new hinges only to find out that the hinges weren’t the real problem; the bottom of the door frame was breaking apart. That’s where those little plastic pieces came from. So then they ordered us a new door only to discover it wasn’t the right one. Before we moved on to our next destination I got the correct part number and then called other RV fixit people in our new location. We picked up the new door this week and came to visit family where there is a real wizard with all things mechanical who installed it for us yesterday! Problem solved! Finally… So why does my whole body tense up and I hold my breath every time either one of us opens that door? Interesting! The expectation of impending doom has become habituated. As a lifelong metaphysican I can see where this goes, if left unaddressed! I hereby choose to notice and challenge any anticipation of difficulty, disease or disquietude I find rising in my consciousness and replace it with the awareness that all my needs have always been met and calm confidence that they always will be! Einstein reportedly said that the big question to answer is whether or not the universe is friendly. This is, indeed, fundamental to how we live our lives; it is the context within which our entire life story unfolds. “God didn’t bring me this far, just to drop me on my head now!” “There’s got to be a pony here someplace!” “It’s not important whether the glass is half empty or half full; it’s refillable!” Today my lesson is trust. Relaxing, allowing, turning it over is only possible when I first decide that the game is indeed rigged, in my favor! Yours too! Deciding that benevolence is the universal organizing principle is my first, maybe only, job! Today I’m thanking my formerly broken refrigerator door for bringing me back home to a really big, and deliciously good, God!