Dear ERTHAWARE Friends,
Every day Lynn and I try to have at least one special “slow meal” together in our home in spite of diverse schedules. From menu, choice of organic ingredients, preparation, table setting to presentation and room atmosphere, everything is intentional — sort of like a liturgy with shared sacrament, or almost the deliberateness of a Japanese tea ceremony. It is an affirmation of our relationship and the sacred space of our home. Perhaps it is also a rebellion, a push back against the frantic, over scheduled rush of modernity, the fragmentation of human solidarity and loss of soul-connection in the home — rather a measured invitation to gratefulness, art, conversation, taste, joy and affection. We will often have a candle or two as a center piece on the table and a string of white lights framing the brick heat shield behind the kitchen wood stove.
This past week we were having a special breakfast on the round black marble table passed on to us after Lynn’s father died. Towards the end of our meal Lynn said: “Look at the two hearts the heat created in the wax. Donn, see if you can get that picture.” Even the top of the wick had split in two creating a double wick with a single flame.So here it is. We send it on to all our ERTHAWARE friends as a Valentine expression. We’ll call this “Two Hearts Created by the Flame of Love.”
Now some of you have been asking, “Where are the ERTHAWARE REPORTS?” It’s true. By this time we should have had 3 or 4 reports out in 2011. But we’ve been consumed by a major renovation of our cottage from which we send these reports.
This house was first built over a century ago as a cabin resting on wood posts and a tree stump. In the 1930s they retrofitted a short concrete footing underneath and added two small rooms to make the 1200 sq. ft. footprint it now has. None of the cottage was insulated. When sewer came to the area they went from an outhouse to one foot clay tiles being fitted end to end at an inconsistent pitch to reach the city sewer 8 feet deep under the street. Tree roots have since invaded the tiles. The galvanized plumbing under the house was wretched and I’ve spent too many cramped hours trying to snake out the unsnakeable or wrenching rust-welded pipes apart. The old cedar siding was weather beaten and starting to flake off in the wind. The skip-sheeted roof had leaking problems. Carpenter ants had one time invaded the walls compromising the studs of the kitchen wall. The issues go on and on.
Do we bulldoze it? So many people have told us it is one of the most charming places in town in this bluff top hollow surrounded by profusely blooming 70 year old lilac bushes. We have aged together with this place since 1975; it echoes our laughter and tears. It is part of us. Sentimentality rules. So we decided to give its decaying temporality a little more longevity by some major repairs — hopefully without losing its quaint charm. We plan on dying in this place gracefully if at all possible.
I am documenting the whole process of repair with pictures, which will NOT be a part of these reports in the future — except the picture below. Our carpenter Tony Rubio was repairing a section of the back wall during which he pulled off the shiplap sheeting of the original cabin and there was the desiccated remains of a former resident wedged in the wall gap. How old? I have no idea. Was this guy around when Orville and Wilber Wright took the first 12 second flight in 1903; or in the Autumn of 1915 when over a million men from warring Christian nations were slaughtered at the Battle of the Somme; or in 1929 when the world financial system crashed.
“Remnants of death hiding in the walls.” Hideous in a way. Not the kind of picture one sends in a Valentine card.
I lifted this mummified rat, turning it over in my hands, contemplating its skull, teeth, hands, skin, skeleton, bottom — a mammal much like us, looking for shelter, food, a place to procreate and raise its young. What a telling symbol of impermanence, change, decay — like the house and us. Whether we like it or not, we are all in the midst of an adventure in temporality. It’s spooky. Yet, I ask myself, is the realism of mortality or impermanence a detriment to creating a present warm atmosphere of “home?” Does it defeat the tender on-going-ness of love? Is there such an art as building beauty in the face of temporality and even chaos?
I have found in many, as well as myself, that subterranean fear of our demise. As I have sat with many folk suddenly shocked into the bald reality of their mortality, I’ve taken note of how we unknowingly combat that hidden dread by attaching our lives to material symbols of success programmed into us by our socio-economic context, or we chain ourselves to iconic possessions of youth, or we rehearse heroic memories that credential our worth for posterity. These games lend appearances of our inviolable self-importance and permanence. But that bank account has diminishing returns. Is there anything that counts?
I remember sitting in a large auditorium packed with affluent Americans seeking a deeper meaning in their lives. The Buddhist teacher (with his haltering foreign accent) was instructing the crowd in the journey to the bodhisattva way of life, that is, to become a wisdom-being detached from false values and motivated by great compassion and loving-kindness towards all sentient beings. In the midst of his lecture he suddenly burst out into a heart-felt commentary about the tragic reality of our current world that relies on militarism and the vicious demonic power of the gun linked to economic and political controls. And then he challenged the audience that what our age needs are courageous women and men filled with loving-kindness and compassion and who risk to walk bravely in non-violent peace. I looked around me and saw many cheeks streaming with tears as if this was a message they had never heard. Had he touched a hunger far deeper in us that is missing in so may people’s busy worlds today?
In 1980 I was at an international convocation of Christian leaders in Thailand. A little known pastor named Iosef from Romania stood up to speak to the august gathering. He told about his 6 months of harsh interrogation, sometimes non-stop for 10 hours at a time. He knew the chief interrogator for he had attended university with him. During one rough session Iosef fired back and cursed the interrogator, who then smile and said “You are free to go.” He had broken him. Iosef staggered home, knocked on the front door and his elated wife hugged his weary body, and she said, “To think you have come home, and on this day.” He had lost track of time. “What do you mean — this day?” “Why Iosef, it is Good Friday.” Suddenly he remembered someone who in the midst of his unjust suffering by the Empire cried out “Father, forgive them…” Iosef turned around and staggered back to that horrible police station and asked for the interrogator. The officer was shocked. Does he have gun?! Iosef then spoke: “You sought to destroy me and I cursed you back in revenge. I was wrong. Forgive me. And when I got home I was reminded that my Master on this day many years ago, while dying on a torture instrument said to his captors, ‘Father, forgive them….’ And I forgive you.” The officer collapsed in his chair and began to weep. And we in the audience of that big air conditioned conference hotel room sat stunned. This was so much more than playing religious charades with our bells and smells and stylistic dogmatic battles.
A wizened old mystic exiled to a rocky island once wrote: “Those who love know God, for God is love.” Maybe in our impermanence there is more to Valentines Day then roses and chocolate, as good as that is. There is the courageous art of love in the midst of chaos. How will I chose to process my mortality? Yes, it takes courage. It’s risky business.
On the journey,
hugs from Lynn and me