“While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because out neighbors are so many.” —Lady Bird Johnson
Tonight is National NIght Out, a time when we are encouraged to get together on our street or in our neighborhood. There will be a gathering near us. I would like to know my neighbors better. I need to know my neighbors better. Because all of us are so busy with our own family’s schedule, it becomes an act of mindfulness and will to take the steps that make that possible.
“We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another… There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbors.” Henri J. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith
-St. John of the Cross, Love Poems from God (trans. Daniel Ladinsky)
This weather worn garden sign is propped on the fence behind my cucumber vines. When I gathered my small harvest, I thought of these words. The blessing of light, along with soil and moisture produced something good and nourishing. The word Peace reminds me that my words have that potential when I use them to bless and encourage.
Sadly, the opposite can also be true. Words spoken in haste or frustration may damage growth and wither relationship. I can choose to speak light and blessing. I pray to speak Peace.
My pastor reminds us that each time we meet, there is a story on every pew that can break your heart. I know some of those stories, and I know that he is right. I also know that we need to hear each other’s stories if we are to know and trust and help each other.
” It always amazes me to think that every house on every street is full of so many stories; so many triumphs and tragedies, and all we see are yards and driveways. ~Glenn Close, American Film and Stage Actress
Part of my daily walk takes me by the front yards of houses in our neighborhood, but the last mile or so of the walk is around a small lake behind the back of houses with wrought iron fences. I see beautiful landscaping, luxurious pools, and groupings of comfortable outdoor furniture. Some even have outdoor kitchens. I enjoy my walks, but I very seldom see another person except the few who are on the path for jogging or cycling. The only signs of life are the dogs in several of the back yards. I don’t see the stories, but I know that they are there.
Wendell Berry expands this need for story in What Are People For? “When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.”
I want to be a part of a community that has not lost its memory. I do not want to forget. Writing and blogging is one way I share my story with you, a hospitality of spirit for me. What about you? In what ways do you tell your story and how are you able to listen to that of others?
Pay attention Be astonished Tell about it ~Mary Oliver
Small children often have a practice at school called show and tell. That seems to be kin to Mary Oliver’s words. First you have to notice, to really see before you can choose something to show or have its description to tell about. I grow a great many herbs in my garden. Each has unique characteristics of growth and appearance and fragrance. Part of the joy of tending this garden is in seeing and knowing the differences.
This Cuban Oregano is one of my favorites for its beauty – softly variegated colors on aromatic velvet leaves that I love to touch. I like the way it leans into our weathered wood fence as if to press its restoring oil into the splintered plank. When I water the plants around it, I look for it, I pay it attention. I am rewarded with fresh amazement at the loveliness of growing things, surviving the heat of summer and thriving.
“Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, ‘not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.’ I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing…But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.” ~ Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Recently I heard a radio interview with an artist who contended he wanted people to look at his work. He said folks go to “see” a movie, but people really “look” at paintings. Without mentioning there can be art in making films just as there is creative expression in other media, I disagreed in his use of the two viewings as one being superior to the other. I believe the question lies in whether either results in true recognition. From its beginning, Stones and Feathers has been a blog subtitled “A Different Way of Seeing.” Contemplative seeing, or seeing with the eyes of the heart is a work of the spirit as well as simply receiving images. So much of my photography and writing is simply an effort to pin down these results and express my gratitude for them.
This video was prepared by a student in a class taught by my friend Sheila Otto. Sometimes I experience something so penetrating and true I weep. My granddaughter Skye once told me the beauty in a red strawberry she was slicing made her whisper. When I viewed Dietrich Ludwig’s film, I cried while I whispered “Thank You.” I share the video with his permission and in tribute to my son, Ben, a man with an extraordinary, different way of seeing. His physical vision loss as yet has no surgical correction, but he lives every day with courage, fortitude, and the beauty that is experienced by seeing with the eyes of his heart.
The film also spoke to me since I was diagnosed in 2005 with Fuch’s corneal dystrophy for which there is no cure, only transplants as an option. My vision deteriorated so rapidly that I (who had been Ben’s reader and driver for so many years) became unable to read or drive. I received cornea transplants in May and July of 2006 and have very good vision at present although still followed closely by the surgeon. I am grateful to the two donor families who made these surgeries possible for me by their gifts.
Please note that the young man who created the video is dyslexic. He has trouble with letters and numbers, but pictures are his best way of learning and communicating. That is the reason he has chosen to work with photography. Thank you, Dietrich Ludwig, for what you see.
In the long way that we take, in our growing up, in the vicissitudes of life by which we are led into its meaning and its mystery, there are established for us, for each one of us, certain landmarks. They represent discoveries sometimes symbolizing the moment when we became aware of the purpose of our lives; they may establish for us our membership in the human frailty; they may be certain words that were spoken into a stillness within us the sound thereof singing forever through all the corridors of our being as landmarks; yes, each one of us has our own. No communication between people is possible if there is not some mutual recognition of the landmarks.