Steering between the setting moon and the rising sun


Monthly I travel to Ann Arbor to visit my mother in an assisted living facility. On this last visit, I took her to get her hair done which includes molding her hair into a virtual sculpture by using enormous amounts of hair spray. We waited in the Secretary of State’s office for over two hours but eventually were able to get her a state ID so she can vote in the upcoming presidential election. We went out for a leisurely lunch, feeding her very healthy appetite. And, as usual, I was in complete denial.

In my denial, I am entertained by my mother’s confusion of fantasy and reality, by her overblown anxieties, by her sense of vengeance. I often do not correct or contradict her. It’s too much work to try to set her aright: Yes, I see the two mirrors leaning against the wall that Chuck (her husband who has been dead for 2 1/2 years) forgot to wrap for the move. Yes, I will wrap them later and get them on the moving truck. —Yes, how could her twin sister at age 89 think about going to Florida and wearing a bikini. I agree that she really must want everybody looking at her! —Yes, it was awesome that her mother (who died over 40 years ago) visited her at her “apartment” last week and how wonderful it was that she was able to sneak her some dinner rolls because they wouldn’t let her mother eat with her. —Yes, that phone call from Denmark, at least that is where the operator said it was from, was very mysterious, from someone whose first name was Lincoln, but too bad she got cut off and couldn’t call back to find out what he wanted. —Yes. She bought the house next door to her previous home in Ohio at a terrific price and no condo fee. She has to move, she said, because they are kicking her out of her “apartment” because she has run out of money. And yes, once again, I will remember to wrap those two mirrors so they can be put in the moving truck.

I left Ann Arbor Tuesday predawn to return to Chicago for a late morning meeting. About two hours into the return trip with daylight finally making itself present, with no radio or podcast to distract, and filled with my mother’s diminished capacities, physical limitations, and utter vulnerability, I just started weeping, steering between the setting moon and the rising sun.

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Walking in the cemetery


We have always lived near cemeteries. First near Graceland and now Cavalry, not too far from Rosehill. In fact, part of my graduate thesis was about the necropolis at Rosehill being such a perfect reflection of the living metropolis of Chicago in the late 19th, early 2oth centuries.

My step-daughter and son both learned to ride their bikes in cemeteries. No traffic. Nice wide paved roads. Safe from strangers.

There’s a lot of history in cemeteries. Not only who is buried there, but how—- a Sears metal marker, ordered out of a catalogue, made to look like carved stone; soft marble disintegrating angels, crosses, portraits, crosses, obelisks; mausoleums with stained glass windows, simple flat markers; sometimes exuberant creativity– train cars, tree trunks, canon, glass enclosed sculptures.

When one strolls through the cemetery, one reads the carved dates, sometimes commemorating very short lives, once in a while very long. One thinks about the time these people spent alive in the 1830s, the 1920s, the 1890s.

Today was a beautiful fall day. JB and I took a stroll through the cemetery four blocks from our house just before we made dinner. It was quiet. Cool air but the sun was warming. Soft sounds of the city nearby. Geese munching the greenery while strolling between the stones. Scattered bouquets of flowers here and there. Smell of freshly cut grass. Buried and entombed bodies as far as the eye can see. All the way to the lake.

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A splendid October day













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One of the many intriguing and inspiring images in Japan and Japanese gardens is the way they care for old trees and the way they achieve aesthetically creative tree shapes. The crutches created to support branches from heavy snow and to give added support to aging trees, as well as the technique used to aesthetically extend branches, is known as Katanagareshitate.

Today JB and I created a support for a long branch of our recently radically pruned tree peony. This tree peony with its richly purple and magenta flowers has been growing in the east garden for close to 25 years, stretching southward towards the sun. We used an old cedar fencepost that was given to us by a neighbor some 20 plus years ago which was stashed in our garage. We tied rope carefully around the fencepost so it wouldn’t split after drilling a hole for the branch to sit in. The rope was covered with melted wax to prevent its rotting. We pounded the support into the moistened earth with a wooden mallet and lightly tied the branch to the support.

We worked together slowly and carefully, propping each other up. Growing older together, all three of us.

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Abiding wonder of reaching out


Since retiring, I have been doing a little tutoring to help make ends meet. It has been interesting, surprising sometimes, to see how academic work assigned in a class gets translated through the eyes of a particular student. Having been a teacher, it is enlightening to see how a student grapples with what a teacher has assigned.

Tutoring so far has been quite awesome. The ability to pour 100% of my effort into one student at a time as opposed to homogenizing it to work for myriads of students simultaneously, all of whom learn differently from each other, has actually been quite refreshing and liberating.

One student I work with, I actually taught last year in the 8th grade — a quiet, engaging, and bright young man, who didn’t always express himself fully or completely. He really came alive as a student twice last year—once during our research project when he discovered the wonderful photographer Jun Fujita and the second time when we read All Quiet on the Western Front and studied World War I. Over the summer he emailed me with information about a book he had discovered, Company K. He had read it and thought it was an amazing book about World War I. In fact, he said, he read it many times, each time a different person’s story catching his attention. He had an original copy, one that belonged to his grandma’s great aunt. I was touched by his email in which he encouraged me to find a copy and read it.

This novel, written by William March, which includes 113 vignettes by different Marines from the same unit in WWI, is considered by some to be the strongest American literary piece which grew out of the war, according to Wikipedia. It was first serialized in The Forum between 1930-32 and in 1933, all the vignettes were published together as a book.

Today, at our first tutoring session, he lent me this book. The very book owned by his grandmother’s great aunt. I was humbled and honored that he wanted me to read it and that he trusted me with this very precious copy.

I think about connections. And relationships. Generosity too. And the abiding wonder of how we reach out to one another.

I will begin reading Company K tonight. Slowly. Carefully. Sensitively. Eagerly, but gently handling this unexpected gift.

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Starting in Wuji- complete emptiness


At the beginning of each TaiChi class, we do a short standing meditation. Our instructor says, “Starting in Wuji- complete emptiness.” Physically this means that our tongue is off the palate, our sacrum is slightly tucked in, our chin is slightly tucked in, our knees are slightly bent, our arms are at our sides and slightly away from our body leaving the armpits open, and that, well, we are completely “empty.”

Wuji, 無極, means limitless or infinite, the “ultimate of nothingness,” the limitless void, that point between movement and quiescence. It is visually represented by an empty circle. Tai chi is represented by the yin yang symbol. Wuji is stillness. Tai chi is movement made manifest from that stillness.

The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze’s Book of the Way of Virtue, refers to Wuji in its 28th verse translated below by Jonathan Star. Wuji is translated here as “No Limits”:

Hold your male side with your female side
Hold your bright side with your dull side
Hold your high side with your low side
Then you will be able to hold the whole world

When the opposing forces unite within
there comes a power abundant in its giving
and unerring in its effect

Flowing through everything
It returns one to the First Breath

Guiding everything
It returns one to No Limits

Embracing everything
It returns one to the Uncarved Block

When the block is divided
it becomes something useful
and leaders can rule with just a few pieces

But the Sage holds the Block complete
Holding all things within himself
he preserves the Great Unity
which cannot be ruled or divided

I have not been posting for almost 6 weeks, in part due to just retiring and seeking more breathing space. Working one’s whole life not only to support oneself (including having to get up each morning at 5am), but also (and more importantly) to manifest a felt calling (teaching), I wanted a respite from some habits and traditions, even ones like blogging.  I wanted to do some emptying. I wanted to hit the refresh button. I wanted to come back to the “Uncarved Block.”

After cheering in the autumnal equinox this evening with baked apples and a glass of hard cider, after these six weeks of restorative indulgence, I am feeling particularly generative. Available. Open. Responsive. Grateful. Blessed. I feel ready to reopen my blog and start again —- in Wuji, complete emptiness.











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All the wrinkled ladies

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