The Presence of Stillness

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When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

 

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When our young grandchild visits
and I watch her discover
the joys and sorrows of this world,
I remember there is light beyond the darkness we feel,
there is peace amid the chaos,
there is a smile behind the tears,
there is stillness within the noisiness,
there is grace as old gives way to new.

 

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A Full Circle Remembrance Day

weddingMy parents Henry and Elna Polis on their wedding day,
Dec. 24, 1942, Quantico, Virginia
He shipped out to the South Pacific front one week later,
not to return until June 1945

 

Sometimes, as a child,  when I was bored, I’d grab a step ladder, pull it into our hallway, climb half way up and carefully lift the plywood hatch that was the portal to our unlit attic.  It took some effort to climb up into the attic from the ladder, juggling a flashlight at the same time, but once seated safely on the beams above our ceiling, being careful not to put my foot through the carpet of insulation, I could explore what was stowed and normally inaccessible to me.

All the usual attic-type things were put up there:  Christmas ornaments and lights,  baby cribs and high chairs,  lamps and toys no longer used.  Secrets to my parents’ past were stored away there too.  It was difficult imagining them as young children growing up on opposite sides of the state of Washington, in very different circumstances, or as attractive college students who met at a dance, or as young marrieds unencumbered by the daily responsibilities of a family.  The attic held those images and memories like a three dimensional photo album.

My father’s dark green Marine Corps cargo trunk was up there, the one that followed him from Officer Training in Quantico, Virginia, to beach and mountain battles on Tarawa, Tinian and Saipan in the South Pacific, and three years later back home again.  It had his name and rank stenciled on the side in dark black lettering.  The buckles were stiff but could be opened with effort, and in the dark attic, there was always the thrill of unlatching the lid, and shining the flashlight across the contents.  His Marine Corps dress uniform lay inside underneath his stiff brimmed cap.  There were books about protocol, and a photo album which contained pictures of “his men” that he led in his battalion, and the collection of photos my mother sent of herself as she worked as a high school teacher back home.

Most fascinating was a folded Japanese flag inside a small drawstring bag, made of thin white see-through cloth with the bold red sun in the middle.  Surrounding the red sun were the delicate inked characters of many Japanese hands as if painted by artists, each wishing a soldier well in his fight for the empire.  Yet there it was, a symbol of that soldier’s demise, itself buried in an American attic, being gently and curiously held by an American daughter of a Marine Corps captain.  It would occur to me in the 1960s that some of the people who wrote on this flag might still be living, and certainly members of the soldier’s family would still be living.  I asked my father once about how he obtained the flag, and he, protecting me and himself, waved me away, saying he couldn’t remember.  I know better now.  He knew but could not possibly tell me the truth.

These flags, charms of good luck for the departing Japanese soldier as he left his neighborhood or village for war, are called Hinomaru Yosegaki (日の丸寄せ書き).  Tens of thousands of these flags came home with American soldiers; it is clear they were not the talisman hoped for.  A few of these flags are now finding their way back to their home country, to the original villages, to descendants of the lost soldiers.  My brother, who now has the flag, has returned it as well to its rightful owners.

Seventy some years ago doesn’t seem that long, a mere drop in the river of time.  There is more than mere mementos that have flowed from the broken dam of WWII, flooding subsequent generations of Americans, Japanese, Europeans with memories that are now lost as the oldest surviving soldiers in their 90’s pass, hundreds of them daily, taking their stories of pain and loss and heroism with them.   My father could never talk with a person of Asian descent, Japanese or not, without stiffening his spine and a grim set to his jaw.  He never could be at ease or turn his back.  As a child, I saw and felt this from him, but heard little from his mouth.

When he was twenty two years old,  pressed flat against the rocks of Tarawa, trying to melt into the ground to become invisible to the bullets whizzing overhead, he could not have conceived that sixty five years later his twenty two year old grandson would disembark from a jumbo jet at Narita in Tokyo, making his way to an international school in that city to teach Japanese children.  My father would have been shocked that his grandson would settle happily into a culture so foreign, so seemingly threatening, so apparently abhorrent.   Yet this irony is the direct result of the horrors of that too-long horrible bloody war of devastation: Americans and Japanese, despite so many differences, have become the strongest of allies, happily exchanging the grandchildren of those bitterly warring soldiers back and forth across the Pacific.  I care for Japanese exchange students daily in my University clinic, peering intently into their open faces and never once have seen the enemy that my father knew.

More than seventy years later, my son still teaches, with deep admiration and appreciation for each of his students, those grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of the soldiers my father hated and likely killed.  Not only does my son teach, but he married a granddaughter of those my father fought.  Their daughter is the perfect amalgam of once warring, yet now peaceful, cultures; symbol of blended and blending peoples overcoming the hatred of past generations.

In coming to the land of the red sun, in coming full circle, my father’s descendant, the teacher and missionary,  redeems my father, the warrior.

It is, on this Remembrance Day,  as it was meant to be.

 

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Spread Your Wings and Fly

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
~ Frederick Buechner

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

We have now said good-bye to our children who came together for a time back on the farm this summer and have all returned to their lives elsewhere.  It was bliss to raise our voices together in harmony before our meals, as we always have done, and now our table is set for two as we entrust them yet again to God’s care and keeping.

Their wings are strong and sure, carrying them miles away from this place of origin.

I began writing regularly 16 years ago to consider more deeply my time left on this earth and what my family meant to me, here and now, and for eternity. Family is carried inside the words I write without my often writing about them directly.  They inspire and challenge me, they love and stretch me, and as our children have now gone out into the world, two returning with beloved wives, and one with their first child,  I am assured they are sustained by what they have carried away from this home.

Life is not just about living in the world but what world you carry deep inside, blessed by faith and obedience to God.  We can never really be lonely; our hearts will never be empty when our voices are always raised in praise together.

We have each other forever, even miles and miles and lifetimes apart.
For you’re always near to me, in my joy and sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky (see song below by Libera)

I sustain myself with the love of family.
― Maya Angelou

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

all family photos by Karen Mullen Photography (thanks once again, Karen!)

 

Angel take your wings and fly, watching over me
See me through my night time and be my leading light
Angel you have found the way, never fear to tread
You’ll be a friend to me, angel spread your wings and fly.

Voces angelorum gloria! Dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine.

Cantate caeli chorus angelorum!
Venite adoramus in aeternum!
Psallite saecula et saeculorum!
Laudate Deo in gloria!
(Sing, Heaven’s choir of angels!
Come, let us evermore adore!
Sing forever and ever!
Praise God in glory!)

Can you be my angel now watching over me
Comfort and inspire me to see our journey through
Can I be your friend indeed, from all cares set free,
The clouds would pass away, then I’d be an angel too

Voces angelorum gloria, dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine
Angel of mine

 

To Set A-Tremble

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“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, “intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Or to use another metaphor, humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.

Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.
~Frederick Buechner from The Hungering Dark

 

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As we say “till we meet again” to our son and family who return today to their mission work in the island nation of Japan, I sense the strength and tenacity of the web that continually connects us to them. As they serve people thousands of miles away, the love and support of family and friends who touched them during their stay here is “set a-tremble” and extends far beyond our patch of soil here.

It helps to know we are linked, no matter how separated.  It helps to know what happens there will reach here with a tiny tremble, if I stay tuned for the smallest vibrations.  It helps to know that despite long history of conflict, our nations are connected again.

Fare well, dear hearts.  Until we meet again, we remain connected, trembling.

 

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Sending the Light

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I want you to read this some day, 恵真
our new little Emma Sophia:
as you took your first breath in the dark of the night
so far away from this farm where your father grew up,
we bid farewell to the sun here
so God could bring it glowing to your first day in Japan,
that misty island where your mother grew up.

Your birth blesses so many all over this earth
and proves that war from two generations ago
exists only in history books now,
now love digs so deep in the genes
it overcomes what has come before.

You have sent the sun back today to us,
brand new grandparents,
to rise pink over this snowy morning,
and we will send it back to you tonight
to wake you for your second day
resting calm in the arms of your loving family.

Each day from now on
may we always return the Light you sent
and send it forth to shine on you.

 

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And Joy Will Find Her…

For my big sister Nancy Polis Casey on her retirement after 41 years of work as a physical therapist

When she no longer has to go to work
she won’t sleep in or stay up late.

When she no longer has to go to work
she’ll get calls asking her to share what she knows.
Her help will continue to make a difference
to those whose healing depends
on her teaching and encouragement.

When she no longer has to go to work
she’ll play with grandchildren when a daughter needs a nap
and she just happens to have an empty lap to fill.
She’ll cook a meal when a friend cannot manage it,
knowing when life overwhelms
with pain or sadness, even small acts of kindness
rescue the heart and restore hope.

When she no longer has to go to work
she will not sketch flowers on white plates
or paint landscapes in watercolor,
but instead will get dirty and grow blooms herself
to take to those who need fragrant beauty
instead of a picture on the wall.
She will trellis tomatoes
simply to share a thick slice of rich flavor
when someone is hungry and needs to be filled.

When she no longer has to go to work
she will find more than plenty to do
because there is so much yet to be done.

Even when she no longer has to go to work
Life will come and find her ready

And she will know joy.