A Homily

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Bald eagle, by Vtornet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

As my friend and I drove to church,
Meandering on a road offering trees and loveliness,
We saw ahead an imposing being
Resting on an overhanging bare branch.

A raccoon first came to mind—
Such was the creature’s size—
But then we saw and understood
The white beaked head,
Eyes searching sustenance:
The only bald eagle I have seen
Out of the sky
In all my decades of living and wandering nearby.

The eagle gave the best of the day’s sermons:
Our world, God’s world,
Embraces eagles and humans,
Oceans and cities,
Elk and agriculture,
Hunted elephants and hungry children;
The choice is not between such as you and such as we;
The choice is between
Reverence for God’s creation—
Care for the Earth and air—
Between that and nothingness.

Emerging

I was feeling this way:

Dear Author

Rejection Slip

I want to be told
My writing is approved.
I have elevated you
And you
Above me
So my own assessment
Is suspect,
Thoroughly unreliable,
So my conclusion
That I have written well,
Put worthwhile thoughts
Into phrases and images
Creatively enough
To inspire reflection,
Perhaps renewal,
Is to be crumpled,
Contradicted,
Expunged,
Unless okayed,
Deemed of merit
By you
And you
And anyone else
Inhabiting the judgment seat
Of the moment,
And so I despair.

And so I prayed:

Dear parents, dear God, dear guides, dear angels, please help me to find my writing way. What is the way I can use writing to serve and also to find my wholeness, my serenity for the time in this life remaining to me? Please help me; please help me. If writing about books is the best way for me to help, what is the focus I should take? On what aspect of books should I focus? Is it on the lessons, the insights from each book. . . . Or perhaps I should combine that approach with inspired writing . . . and with poems, even if others don’t usually seem to know what to make of my poems. Please guide me. Thank you, dear ones and God. Please guide me to the answer, to the enduring way forward. . . .

I was given this answer:

We want to help you, and will help you if you are able to still your mind enough to listen, to hear. What is most important for you is your message, not the vehicle through which you express your message. Be clear about your beliefs, as we think you are. But to help you relax and move forward, write an in-depth piece setting out your gospel, as your understanding shows you now. Your understanding will continue to change and grow through ongoing conversion, continuing revelation, and so the pieces you write will reflect your spiritual evolution. But the principle holds: be thoroughly clear about what you want to say, and vehicles to express your understanding will open to you. You had things backwards, worrying about finding a grand vehicle for writing when all you need to move forward is to be immersed in your understanding. Namaste

Ocean

And so I have begun moving forward by expressing some of my central beliefs:

My Beliefs[1]

  1. Every person, without exception, has gifts to offer the world.
  2. Most individuals need encouragement from others, from us, to recognize and cultivate their gifts fully.
  3. To value others’ gifts above our own is to denigrate and obscure God’s gifts within us—leaving not only our lives but also the world itself poorer.
  4. We are each part of God and loved by God, regardless of our religious affiliation (or lack of affiliation).
  5. Every human being is equally valuable, to God and to the world. Gender, age, and infirmity do not change this fact.  (Note: Denying women the right to become priests is about power, not Christianity.)
  6. God is within all of creation.
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  7. A single consciousness links all creation, including every human mind, and that consciousness is of God.
  8. If we do not protect and love the Earth and all creation, we do not love God.
  9. Fear is a powerful producer of hurtful, harmful behavior.
  10. If we can understand how the world looks to another person, we can better understand her or his behavior.
  11. Success is wrongly defined as power and status over others.
  12. The essence of being a true Christian is being kind and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
  13. Without kindness and love, religious practices are meaningless and are a significant source of suffering, prejudice, hate, and violence.
  14. If we feel inferior to others and fear rejection and isolation, we may struggle to be kind and loving.
  15. Honoring life means respecting and protecting all of life, including the planet itself and nonhuman animals. Protecting some lives at the expense of others is not Christianity (or any other spirituality) in action.
  16. We must address the causes of suffering and harmful behavior, and not only respond to their symptoms.
  17. There is an afterlife, a heaven, and we will rejoin our loved ones there. Even as we continue in our earthly lives, we and our loved ones in heaven continue to be a part of each other’s existence.
  18. Heaven to at least some extent corresponds to our needs and desires. (“In my Father’s house are many mansions,” John 14:2.)
  19. Based on the evidence I have read, reincarnation exists, but I think that we have a choice about returning and that soul growth continues in heaven as well as during earthly life. Perhaps it is not that I, Winifred Hayek per se, will return but that a new personality that is another aspect of my soul may come to earth for a human life.  Maybe somewhat as Jesus is both an individual human and God, our own souls experience human lives but are at the same time more than those individual lives.
  20. Religious and political leaders who preach division and who seek to control through fear and feigned superiority are false prophets.
  21. Lived examples are more persuasive than words. At the same time, we must speak up against injustice and on behalf of others.
  22. Our individual thoughts and words help to create the world in which we live.
  23. Rituals are valuable if they help us to feel nearer to God and closer to all the souls across the planet and throughout time. On the other hand, if we think that our traditions and precepts serve to show our superiority to outsiders, our theology is among the causes of misunderstanding, bigotry, hatred, poverty, violence, and war.
  24. No one can know the entire truth of who and what God is and how creation came to be. Over the course of our lives, we have the responsibility to use our own ongoing seeking to accept or refute, expand, mold, and clarify the religious teachings we have encountered.
  25. Because there is that of God in each of us, we have the capacity to listen to and learn from the best within ourselves, and personal experiences can be powerful teachers.
  26. The idea that good people (i.e., those practicing our religion) will live charmed lives and that other people (those who haven’t joined our church) will suffer is false and pernicious. Jesus was not only good but was also God, and he suffered.  His mother, Mary, suffered.  Suffering is an inevitable part of being human and helps to temper and teach our souls.  As Franciscan Richard Rohr writes, “We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.”[2]
  27. I don’t think God cares about my church membership unless it helps me to become more loving and kind and to see that all people are one within God.
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  28. Hell does not exist. Some souls in the afterlife are far from the Light of God, but these souls have the opportunity to grow closer to the Light.
  29. The arts and humanities have as much to teach the human race and are as vital as the sciences.
  30. God never gives up on us, and neither should we give up on ourselves or others.

[1] Subject to modification!

[2] Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” 17 October 2018.

Prayer and Writing, for Writing

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We hear from a wise Franciscan,
“Pray as you can,
Not as you cannot.”[1]
And I translate,
“Write as you can,
No longer as you cannot,”
Or barely manage
And with suffering.
Writing, like singing,
Is my prayer.
I sing with joy,
Insouciant in spite of my small,
Unremarkable voice.
But in writing
I seek my voice’s power.
So I am to “write as I can write,”
But how is that?
It is not as I have written,
And not as I have so far
Prayed for my writing,
Begging to be of service,
Begging to count,
Craving to take my place,
To find my place.
It is not as I have sought the means
To earn my keep,
To stop staggering
A few paces from the edge.
And so how can I finally write?
What that I have considered,
Pondered, and explored
Is of my soul,
And what is of yours, and yours,
And only mine as I think
It ought to seem?
How can I write
In order, finally,
To share the prayer of words
From my own spirit and being,
My own days and meaning?

[1] Our Franciscan teacher was quoting the Benedictine priest John Chapman (1865-1933).

Trying to Follow the Star

In The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage, Joan Chittister (Convergent Books, 2019) writes, “The prophet is the person who says no to everything that is not of God.  No to the abuse of women.  No to the rejection of the stranger. . .” (15).  She goes on to explore in depth what it means to be a modern-day prophet and asserts that we are all called on to be prophets.  Yes we must help those in need, but we must also address the causes of suffering, from the suffering brought by hunger and violence to that brought by the destruction of our air, land, and oceans.  Reading Chittister’s book and attending an Advent retreat at a nearby Franciscan Spiritual Center prompted this poem:

Trying to Follow the Star

I wish to be a prophet of everything
And so am a prophet of nothing,
Wanting to right all wrongs
And caught in the snare of wanting.

What, and where, is the star
I am to follow?

I have been drawn by alluring lights
All my life,
Many casting beauty and meaning,
But then I have wandered,
Mistaking others’ stars for mine.

And in a world, a life, of surface glow with faded centers,
The brilliance of the true seems dimmed, eclipsed,
But if I turn my eyes away
And into the pure darkness
Of the soft, benevolent night,
I will see the miraculous constellations
Holding peace, joy, and God
And bathing us in starlight.

Taurus, including Hyades and Pleiades, by Daddy (2)
Constellation Taurus, including the Hyades and Pleiades, photograph by Mason Hayek

Along the Way

I can set out again,
Even at seventy—
Just now I resisted
Writing “seventy,”
Fearing others will see
Me as less
Than I think I am
Or try to be.

I walk fast,
Dance,
Make a point
Of lifting,
Bending,
Being the go-to kid—
Happy I can,
Glad to help,
And with something to prove
To me,
Working to be needed,
Wanted,
Included,
Useful,
Not left out.

So much is behind:
Though I do not know
The time ahead,
I understand the difference
Between potential
And impossible.

But yes,
I can set out each new day
Better ready for the journey
Than I have been before;
The decades
Nourish seventy:
Years of stumbling
And years of blessings
Give a measure of guidance—
Where to explore
And where not to step again—
Offer endurance,
Acceptance,
Optimism,
Courage,
Joy
Discovering,
Embracing
New and familiar vistas
Gracing
Whatever is still to come.

Making Peace, Finding Peace, Seeing Peace, Giving Peace

I am beginning a new memoir project, whose tentative title is Making Peace, Finding Peace, Seeing Peace, Giving Peace.  Here are my project plans.

I recently turned 70, an age younger people often consider elderly and generally past it.  I am blessed, however, to be active and lively—as are many others my age and older.  I am even inclined to be a bit of a Peter (Petra?) Pan.  I do understand that more of this life is behind me than ahead, and no one gets to my age without suffering loss and regret.  Although I am happy and so busy with activities I enjoy that I sometimes don’t sleep enough, I look back on my life so far and see vast swathes I wish I had lived differently.  And the future is, of course, filled with unknowns.  And so I want to examine my life from my current place within it, exploring how I can better understand and reframe the past, find greater serenity, meaningfully serve others now, and embrace what life still has in store.  I would like for my new memoir to encourage readers to see and value their own lives; I want to bring them hope, courage, and peace of mind.

The Focus

The central question of my memoir is this: How can I make, find, see, and give peace now—at this point in my life—and in the years to come?

In the area of making peace, I will explore my need to make peace with

  1. Never having married
  2. Never having children and grandchildren
  3. Not sustaining the kind of meaningful career I hoped to have
  4. The men (the “Rogues”) I dated
  5. Having not been the daughter that I wish I’d been and that my parents deserved
  6. Not standing up to bullies in my life
  7. Aging and its unknowns
  8. Perfectionism
  9. Feeling less-than
  10. The possibility of rejection
  11. Not keeping up with my study of literature and earning a PhD.
  12. Not becoming a successful writer
  13. Not keeping up with my music
  14. Going in many directions without finding my purpose
  15. My weaknesses

I will examine the areas of finding, seeing, and giving peace in the context of

  1. Community
  2. Friendship
  3. Nature, the Earth, and Creation
  4. Empathy for others
  5. Encouraging others
  6. Giving pleasure through my abilities
  7. Creating without achievement expectations
  8. My conviction that life is ongoing
  9. Teaching in settings still open to me
  10. Kindness
  11. Learning without achievement expectations
  12. Exploring and sharing ideas
  13. Spiritual life
  14. Seeing more of the past’s great gifts
  15. Mutual respect—honoring others and not belittling myself

Themes and Underlying Beliefs

In the course of my memoir, I hope to illustrate, explore, and establish ways to implement more fully these beliefs about paths to a serene and meaningful life:

  1. Know that it’s not too late.
  2. Know that you’re not too old.
  3. Cultivate your own individual style.
  4. Be yourself; let others do the same.  And avoid trying to find your satisfaction vicariously through someone else’s life.
  5. Be able to articulate your values and beliefs.
  6. Each day, use your creativity, interests, and talents in some way.
  7. Write/Draw/Dance/Play music . . . to satisfy yourself, not for anyone else’s approval.
  8. Embrace this truth: If you try to do something according to someone else’s opinions—in place of your own—you’ll probably either not like the results or give up before finishing.
  9. Acknowledge that if you’re procrastinating, there’s something wrong with the situation.  Figure out and address the problem.
  10. Learn something new every day.
  11. Learn for the pleasure of learning.
  12. Have a sense of purpose in life and keep that purpose shining in your heart and mind.
  13. Understand that your sense of purpose doesn’t have to be flashy, obvious to others, or highly specific (such as “become a bestselling author” or “sing Aida at the Met”).
  14. Develop and keep routines and traditions that support order and meaning in your life.  Include time for meditation and reflection.
  15. Notice the interesting small details in nature and all of life.
  16. Keep a journal so that ideas, impressions, and memories don’t fade and days don’t get lost in the tide of years.
  17. Practice being fully present in the moment.
  18. Define the present moment as meaningful and interesting.
  19. Discover the positive potential and lessons in difficult situations.
  20. Value your blessings while you have them, and not just in hindsight.
  21. Do the best you can and then let it go.  Don’t rehash the past by asking, “Did I really do my best and try my hardest?”
  22. Once a situation is past, forgive everyone for everything (which does not mean letting bad situations recur).
  23. Realize that other peoples’ behavior makes sense from their frame of reference.
  24. Don’t try to change other people, but allow for the possibility of their changing.  (Your example is more powerful than your arguments.)
  25. Believe that no matter how hard others try to make you feel inferior, you are an equally important and valuable human being.
  26. Minimize contact with energy vampires and other people who don’t make you feel good about yourself.
  27. Don’t allow yourself to feel like a child who has misbehaved. You acted as you did for a reason, even if you will look at the situation differently next time.
  28. Look for and take opportunities to give honest encouragement.
  29. Recognize that encouraging others doesn’t mean trying to please them to win their favor.
  30. Don’t allow yourself to act out of fear of rejection or criticism.
  31. In relationships, act from the beginning according to the principle of mutual respect; it can be exceedingly difficult to change the relationship dynamics later.
  32. Identify a mentor to help you strengthen your confidence, courage, and dedication to your values and life focus.  A mentor can be someone you admire but don’t know personally.
  33. Find and seize opportunities to see life from others’ perspectives and situations.
  34. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone to whom you could give pleasure.
  35. Be aware that reaching out to and helping others can take many forms, including writing and other creative endeavors.
  36. Don’t value helping strangers above helping family members and other loved ones: both kinds of service are infinitely important, so serve where and how you can.
  37. Realize that if you fail to honor your own fundamental needs, you won’t be able to continue helping others over the long haul.
  38. If you are doing an assignment or task for someone else, first accept it consciously as something you are choosing to do, and then put your own stamp on it.
  39. Accept that getting stressed won’t lead to greater punctuality/perfection/approval than will staying calm.
  40. Strive, in your own way, to advance justice and kindness.

(The above list was posted earlier as “Forty Guidelines for Becoming a Classic.” Now I will try to explore these beliefs in more depth.)

Garnet Light

I am twelve,
Loving summer camp
With its quests
Unexpected and new,
Its routines and scenes,
Moose Pond in the morning mist—
A wide lake in spite of its name—
The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain,
Honeymoon and Japanese Islands
Present unseen,
Loving summer camp especially this summer
Because I have a best friend,
Louise;
We explore, discuss, absorb
The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.

Excursions and camping trips
Are my pinnacle delight;
For some, we paddle across or down our lake;
For others, we ride, singing,
In the open wooden-gated back of a truck,
Sometimes to a distant lake or river
That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove,
Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.

As on the day we campers climb
Over the face of a garnet hillside
Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.

I love rocks—geology has risen high
Among the fascinations
That will rise and fall and rise in new forms
Across the eras of my life.

I am jubilant
Tapping on the cliff
In the warm Maine sun,
Loosening treasures,
Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems
To carry home with me at the end of summer
In a footlocker weighing three times
Its going-to-Maine weight.

Our home, drawing by Mason Hayek

Back home
I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high;
My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.

As my years continue,
Rocks give way to new passions—
Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature—
I live a floating life,
Grasping the possibilities in view,
Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.

I meet rapids
And create whirlpools where none are intended;
I flail against benevolent waters
Because they are not the waters I seek
Or believe I need to find.

After journeying to distant shores
Seeking elusive settling,
I return eventually to Delaware,
To our little white house.

Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock,
Stored safely against our sheltering home.

Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals
Twelve-year-old me
Held among the eons its gems have shone
Within and on the surface
Of our miraculous Earth.

My rock carries within itself
Its ancient molten infancy
And refracts the Light
To bathe my ephemeral now
With insight outside of passing time.

The girl I was is not lost
But held inside of me;
The future I wanted but did not find
Forms strata in my knowing,
In the strength I have to share.

God’s garnets in my hand
Shine their peace-giving glow
On who I was,
Who I am,
And who I still can be.

Eve’s Footsteps

Were you walking by the water to watch the waves and the shore birds?
Were you worried, angry, lonely,
Peaceful, reflective, in love?
Where was Adam?
Did he help you with the cooking?
What did you long for in your life—
A pretty face?
Appreciation?
A kinder man?
Bright children?
A room of your own, or the 115,000 BC equivalent?
Likely the possibility of warmth, ample food, and shelter was sufficient dream.
I want to know
If you worried about dying,
If growing older was a curse or a relief,
If your children minded you,
If you asked yourself the point of living.
I wonder how you passed the time,
How you spoke and dressed,
What you thought about when you woke in the morning,
What kept you awake at night.
Were the myths already in place—
That you were created from Adam to be his,
That too much willfulness in a woman is dangerous to a man,
That women are weak and easily swayed by a glib tongue?
Did you bother to rebel?
Something of your physical self is in every woman, and every man, too,
But we women of 1,170 centuries later
Also share your eternity.
When we wander along the beach
Thronged with people, sullied by debris—
The ocean still grand and powerful—
You walk with us,
The solitary mother of all women,
The young girl at the beginning of time,
The woman who has seen all ages and carries us each inside of her.

First Night at the Met

Looking at night into the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, by Paul Masck – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, from Wikimedia Commons.

I am blessed to have numerous interests and to have been able to sample many of them so far in my life.  For instance, while I’m no ballerina, I did get to take ballet lessons and to see Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake.  My French and Italian have notable flaws, but I’ve been fortunate to have visited France, to have traveled in Italy twice, and to have had happy adventures in both places.  I’m no singer, but I do get to be in a church choir, have had season tickets to the Delaware and Philadelphia Operas, and have been in the audience at the Metropolitan Opera, in New York, a handful of times.  This story tells about some of the adventures surrounding and during my first opera at the Met, twenty years ago this month.  I hope the story inspires you to revisit your own special times.

The health-food-store[1] lentil soup is memorable for its setting on the Upper West Side.  The only grumpy person I will cross paths with in New York is the middle-aged woman at the check-out counter.  She is in an area that serves also as a juice bar.  At first she tells me I can’t pay at her register, but I say my tea is from the juice bar, so can I pay her, after all?  She grunts.  I ask if she said yes.  She grunts.  I pay her.

As my companions, Tina and Alice, and I finish our lunch on a wide island in the middle of Broadway just south of 90th Street, I sense myself apart, of the city but separate from it, observing.  I am with Tina and Alice but also alone with my own thoughts and the images passing in front of me.  A heavy-set woman in running shoes sits down next to me on the bench, but we never acknowledge each other or look each other in the face.

While Alice was driving us to the hotel, she was repeatedly frustrated in efforts to turn a corner by the pedestrians crossing the street.  But when we exchange driving for walking, we become part of the ruling pedestrian tyranny, forging across the street with the light, or before it, watching out only for taxis who don’t care if we have the right-of-way.

Having finished our lunch, we walk down Broadway, stopping at Zabar’s to explore what must be the world’s most complete selection of kitchenware.  It makes me think that cooking might not be too bad.  I like the colored vases and glasses made in Italy, the hot mitts with puppet faces sewn onto them, and the huge copper kettles.  On the first floor, the rich smell of cheese almost overcomes the odor of raw fish.  A child in a stroller squalls as his mother tries to push him through the narrow, crowded aisles.  “We’ll go home right after this.  I promise,” she tells him.

Back on the street, children pass in Halloween costumes, a tiny girl in a long organdy dress, a little boy dressed as an unidentifiable (to me) cartoon superhero.  A woman walking with her elementary-school-aged son and daughter talks on a cell phone:  “I’ll take Ella to her music lesson, and you can take. . . .”  The dogs are the most interesting of all.  No one in New York has a dull-looking dog.

An elderly homeless man sleeps in a doorway with his head on one of the run-down Nikes he’s removed.  Other homeless men ask for money.  One man I will wish later I had helped is both old and frail.  I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.

We walk about fifteen blocks south of our hotel and then return so that Tina and Alice can change their shoes.  Fortunately, we have to be at the restaurant, Josephina,[2] at 5:00, so we can’t waste time in the hotel.  After a quick return stop at the health-food store to buy dessert for later, we hustle down Broadway and make it to Josephina exactly on time.  Alice called for reservations after we finished eating lunch and was told that all the reservations for times we could come were filled, but that if we come right at 5:00 and leave by 6:15, we can probably get in.  That’s what we do.

On the way to the restaurant, we pass Giuseppe Verdi Square, a pleasant little elongated rectangle of ivy and trees, but on some of the trees a sign has been tacked: “Rat poison in use in the area.”  Down closer to Josephina and Lincoln Center, we find Richard Tucker Park (with no mention of rats).

Josephina has a clean, open, peaceful, and well-polished feel.  On two of the walls are large, colorful murals of Italy, done in a Cézanne-like style and emphasizing hills and cypresses, houses with red-tiled roofs, and people having fun in outdoor cafés.  On another wall is a mural of Cézanne-like fruit.  A large and pretty portrait of the real Josephina, someone’s grandmother, hangs over the bar, and on a post is a huge photograph of her wedding in a crowded village church.  The wedding couple and their guests were intensely alive then.  Now their day has passed and we are trying to live our lives.

For dinner, I have St. Peter’s fish, which I have never heard of before but which is about the best fish I ever ate.  I can enjoy the meal because the opera will not start until eight, and all we have to do is cross the street.  Walking down the block ending with Josephina, we passed Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera to our right—a dream, a mirage become real.

After dinner, Tina and Alice want to sit on the wall around the fountain, but I can’t be that close and not go in.  In the Met store I find—and buy—the copy of the original La Bohème poster that I’ve wanted since I first saw a photo of it on the Internet, a box of notecards that have prints of several old opera posters, and Christmas cards that show a painting of the Met from the perspective of a balcony looking out over the chandeliers in the entrance and a Christmas tree outside.  The inscription talks about singing.  Simply to be in the shop thrills me.  I can pass up the pretty cloth purses made from the fabric of old Met costumes—and sold for high prices—but seeing all the CDs and videos of operas and singers makes me feel like a mouse loose in a cheese shop.

By Adolfo Hohenstein – Allposters, Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons.

When I’ve temporarily had my fill, I go back out to Tina and Alice.  They share their chocolate cupcake between them, and I eat half my cookie while we watch the gathering crowd and a couple of men trying to interest passers-by in their tickets.  Just indoors, Chagall murals on musical themes hang on either side of the opera house as an integral part of the Met’s facade.

Tina and Alice want to see the store, so I happily go back in with them.  Franco Corelli is singing Puccini over the loudspeakers, and the store is crowded now.  We join the line waiting to go into the theater itself.  We see a couple of beautiful sequined tops, but many people are dressed as we are and could have come right from the office to the opera.  The somewhat chaotic line of waiting people is happy, excited, or maybe I am so happy and excited that everyone else looks that way, too.  One older couple cuts in line, as if waiting an extra thirty seconds after the ticket-takers let us past would be too much.

“All the way up,” the man who takes our tickets tells us.  I don’t mind being very used to hearing, “All the way up,” in concert halls and opera houses.  The Met carpets and seats are red, as they should be.  Our seats are on stage left in the fourth row of the highest section, which goes on to slope gradually upward, far above us.  We love our seats, although no sequins make it up that high.

As we wait for the curtain to rise, the chandeliers float above us like masses of delicate, sparkling Christmas stars suspended below the gold ceiling.  The house begins to darken and the still-lighted small chandeliers that have been below our line of sight rise slowly to the ceiling.  “I’m going to cry,” says Alice, overcome by the beauty.  I feel the same way.

The overture to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro—and among the peak evenings of my life—begins.  How can I describe perfection of sound?  Some of the voices are perfect, and others are beyond perfection to celestial:  Susan Graham’s as Cherubino and Hei Kyung Hong’s as the Countess.  I think to myself, “For the rest of my life, I want to listen to music like this without pause.”

Except for the applause and bravos, the audience is quiet and attentive—no candy-wrapper rattlers—and I don’t see any empty seats.  Instead of being projected over or beside the stage, the translations are on a small screen on the back of each seat; one can engage them or not.  I love the system—no getting behind, as occasionally happens at OperaDelaware, no trying to look up at the titles and down at the action simultaneously.  Some of the words to Le Nozze di Figaro are delightfully humorous.

During the second intermission, my friends and I buy $3 glasses of mineral water to quench our thirst from the salty dinner.  After each act, I am happy that more is to come.  But then the opera ends.  Although I am tired from not enough sleep and too much walking, I would gladly watch the opera through again immediately, and then again, and then again.  Even in the Met, some people rush out during the applause.  I have a passing urge to trip them.

If it didn’t mean my first evening at the Met is over, I would love being in the milling crowd making its way downstairs.  Outside, a row of limousines waits.  It is midnight as we walk a few blocks to the Mozart Café,[3] for which Alice has seen an ad mentioning live classical music.  The live music turns out to be jazz tonight, but the place is open until 3 a.m. and serves unsweetened apple pie, which Tina and Alice order.  I choose a pot of passion-fruit-and-peppermint tea, which turns out to be about the best herbal tea I ever tasted.  The crowd is nearly all young.  At a table near us, a handsome couple spends as much time gazing at each other as talking or eating.  Another nearby table is full of wholesome-looking young people who remind me of the music students at West Chester University, where I work.

We leave the restaurant around one in the morning and walk all the way home—about thirty blocks—although we could have taken the M104 bus, which seems to run all night.  I am a little nervous walking in some of the quieter spots, although we are far from the only folks out tonight.  Alice says a few times, “You’re going too fast.”

Two boys on bicycles aim their bikes right at Alice and me.  A young man passes us as he talks—or pretends to talk—on a cell phone in a frighteningly crazed rush of words.  After these encounters, we speed up and Alice doesn’t seem to think we’re going too fast at all.  I am glad to see the hotel.  It has been one of those times when I’ve heard but haven’t heeded my better judgment, thinking that I don’t want to be difficult and that probably, possibly, everything will be okay.  Fortunately, for the three of us this night, it is.

Alice is quick in the bathroom, and then it is my turn.  I cannot go to sleep while someone else is stirring in the room, and back and forth Tina goes, back and forth, back and forth.  I think, this time will be it, but then the back and forth repeats.  Finally Tina goes to bed.  I fall deeply asleep.


[1] The store we visited is Gary Null’s Uptown Whole Foods.

[2] The restaurant was wonderful and the site of many memories for me, but it has since closed.

[3] This restaurant is also permanently closed.

Outside the Lines

At the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong learning Institute (OLLI), I’m co-teaching a course called Weaving Your Legacy. My colleague teacher designed the course. It provides a setting and encouragement for class members to work on substantial projects, projects that weave life experiences into meaningful “tapestries” for the benefit and pleasure of current and future generations. While most members of the class are focusing on written work such as memoirs, blogs, fiction, or poetry, projects using other types of creative expression—for example, photograph collections, oral histories, needlework, or drawings—are equally at home in the class.

A lovely part of my father’s legacy is the beautiful collection of drawings that he created. His pen-and-ink (here: Birmingham Meetinghouse, West Chester, Pennsylvania, by Mason Hayek) and pencil drawings express his vision and values.

One of our texts for the course, Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom, by Daniel Taylor, includes a chapter on the “spiritual will,” a document that explicitly or implicitly shares what the author has learned about living a meaningful, satisfying life. A spiritual will can take many forms—among these, a short list of the author’s “truths” (as of that point in the writer’s life), a letter, an essay, or a complete book. The short essay that follows is an example of a spiritual will.

“Outside the Lines” expresses some of my truths, however limited or subject to change, and tells a little bit about how I learned these life lessons. The essay also provides an example of a piece written in the second person (“You. . . .”). I find that writing in the second person, imagining—or perhaps hearing in my mind—what a friend, a mentor, or the wisdom living within us all would say to me, can help me be more objective about challenging topics.

Outside the Lines[1]

When you were four, your Sunday school teacher asked, “Why don’t you color nicely the way Chrissie does?” You stopped thinking about how you wanted to color the picture and instead scribbled all over it in black crayon.

A couple of years later, your elementary-school classmate criticized your shoes, your voice, your answers to the homework, the way you ran in gym class—pretty much any fodder she could find. You thought the lesson was that people didn’t like you, and you learned it well for life.

Beginning in fourth grade, your flute teacher talked a lot about intonation, breath control, and accidentals but never mentioned your expressive sense of melody. You no longer wished to take flute lessons because they were filled with unmet rules. You understood only what you still did wrong, not the musical strengths already your own.

I do still play my flute from time to time–I was teaching high school in Maine at the time this photo was taken.

Not only childhood but all of life is filled with such teachers. To move forward and find your peace, you must release these damaging teachers now. Most have done their best as they knew how. Retain the good they have given you, but then no more.

In nearly every facet of life, we all are teachers, as well as students. When we share our knowledge, we can contribute much. When we encourage others to nourish their individual gifts, we contribute vastly more. You, led by your Inner Light,[2] are the wisest teacher for your own talents, vision, and possibilities.

Also take as your teachers those who have kept their courage in spite of life’s buffeting. After editors tampered with her poems to make them fit the poetry rules of the day, Emily Dickinson no longer published her work but continued to write prolifically. Most would instead have tried to write for the market or given up entirely, but Emily valued her own voice above pleasing those who saw themselves as experts. Think of what the world would have lost if Emily had succumbed to meeting others’ expectations.

My mother was a gifted storyteller. Her stories–many of which are collected in her book Paint Lick, by Doris Burgess Hayek–both recreate the life she knew in her small childhood village and share life lessons she learned in her early years.

Whether your gifts are in dancing or painting, cooking or planting, inventing or healing, solving equations or easing suffering, being cheerful or being kind, you give most to the world through what makes you different: your unique voice and ways of being. If you believe in others’ dictates while denying your own, you will spend your life seeking to fill gaps and fix flaws with borrowed wisdom, rules, and ways. Learn from others, but recast their lessons to match the best of who you are and are becoming, from youth through oldest age.


[1] Part of this post appears in A Woman in Time, by Winifred Burgess Hayek.

[2] The “Inner Light” is a Quaker term for “that of God within.”