on happy, no matter what

Amidst a slew of news and happenings over the last week (four of which qualify for the crazy-bad category and four more which simply cannot fit anywhere but in the crazy-good sector)? I look around every day to find myself teary-eyed joyful and teary-eyed sad, usually at precisely the same time (no sequencing afoot) and guess what: I am happy. Period. No matter what.

Fascinating, that. Happiness was never all that big a goal of mine. Since childhood, I’ve always been a lot more focused on the thing I was trying to learn right then. I suppose I went about my first three decades figuring happiness itself to be an odd duck and unhappy if pursued by anyone, but especially me—not at all equipped with duck-hunting genes. About ten years ago, that laissez-faire attitude morphed into near desperation to make a contribution before I die, to do something that would make a good difference for somebody else, to lay myself out and use myself totally, completely up in service to something besides my own personal desires or needs. It became an obsession almost, with every single decision run through the hopper of valuable contribution or no? And it fueled long hours of work toward a path sure to let me do that . . . which turned out to dead-end in a carbon steel-mortared brick wall.

Only having hit it full force, and then having taken a few steps back and knuckleheaded it again at high speed (three of the crazy-bad happenings of the last week forming said wall)? Only then did I raise my weary head and lay one beady eye on forever and erupt in happy laughter at it all. It was as if a great old soul was standing next to me and said, “hannah, when will you ever accept that you do NOT belong in these lines of endeavor?!! Seriously, dear, do we need to break your nose or something next time?!”

And I laughed, and still am laughing today, as miracles and nightmares keep erupting all over, and much of what I thought was solid disappears while stronger firma terra materializes all about and without my least assistance. And in such a space I know that the crazy-bads are honestly not a whit different from the crazy-goods, because when you come down to the puppy’s nubbin on things, I am just a little human being in a great big world. For however long I am breathing, I shall breathe and be to the best or worst of my abilities in that moment, and the second I do not? I know not a smidgen of what comes next. One thing I know for sure: Hell’s already my friend, because love—unconditional, wide hearted, and unceasing—leaches even the worst crazy-bad times of their furies and has proven to me, over and over and over again already, that every hell carries heaven in its innermost heart. So I am happy. Period. No matter what.

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on miracles and goodness welling up all over

Someone I had never met before gave me a gift this week—noticing something with which I have long struggled, an expensive need for which all my efforts and funds have not yet sufficed. He offered his skill and resources and kindness, clearing time on a busy schedule and providing the services I have been unable to procure on my own, and then refused utterly my attempts to recompense him for any of that—stunning me into silence and teary-eyed wonder ever since (and long ahead, without question, for I shall carry this one to my grave). What a miracle! I thought, in one long pause and many since, and then I noticed something lovely taking place. All my worries and angst over every little other thing fell gently aside, like snowflakes finding lower branches on a mountainside of wonder. Over and over, the thrill of this gift and ones before and the ones before those going back to infinity have patiently lined up for my attention. No one has to be kind to another being ever. When it happens, it is a miracle.

When I sat down to compose my thoughts for a thank you and this post, though, I realized yet again—for the nth time compelled by more evidence thusward—that I have for years lived in a space of goodness welling up all over. Even in my darkest hours, I have stumbled into grace repeatedly. It has always been easier for me to give than receive, yes, and I have often struggled alone and feeling friendless at least in part because I did not know how to do anything else, but receiving brings deeper humility and a nearly unbearable lightness of being. In the hard edges of now—what with inequalities deepening on every hand and economies no longer reliably offering even the hardest and best-trained workers a steady living and feeling personally assailed thus far too often—it is easy to feel weary and to doubt whether there will ever be a level playing field again. Or simply a field.

And then someone comes along and notices a need and reaches out and, if the shame of having needed anything can be set aside even for a few moments? I walk in grace for good. Knowing not just to bone but to marrow of soul that I belong to all that is.

In the last month I have had the extraordinary good fortune to have enjoyed the hospitalities of three dear friends and one former stranger. Food and lodgings shared, places to work in peace and beauty  (first a historic schoolhouse and then a historic house, both of which make my whole being sing with wild joy just for existing!) while I wrestle a gut-wrenching set of stories to the page, time to be in company and alone, conversations on our lives and concerns and hopes: these came to me from three friends who helped to make this month of research and writing possible. Without their assistance, none of it would’ve happened, for on my own I would’ve fallen far short of the resources required. And then came the stranger, who helped with not just a tooth, but a slew and the associated, unresolved issues with them, relieving me so much that the pain of said mouth no longer makes the least impression. And then he spoke of providing dental care on missions for people who otherwise would have none, and I realized yet again—for the umpteenth time and then some—that the ‘haves’ in this society are often just like the ‘have nots’ in this one thing that so many of us share. And I came home and found a way to give a little bit of my resources to someone in the fight of his and his community’s life, facing down ebola half a world away from me and with me having not a single usable skill for that fight? And I remembered, from this month to forever.

What I keep finding is that nearly everyone I meet is looking for a way to help, to render assistance, to make things better, to lighten another’s load. No matter how small our offerings might be sometimes, we still find our ways to contribute, to extend the resources we have been given to those who have greater need. If I had to make a list of all who have helped me here? I could not finish, were I given another whole lifetime and no other tasks to fulfill. So the good that comes to me, as ever, I will appreciate for good, turning back every thing I can lay my hands on to keep such grace moving in the world. Widening our connections, our senses of belonging to each other and to all that is: our little lives steady miracles that feed these deep springs of goodness welling up all over: willing at last to receive as well as to give, for it is in both that we find ourselves one.

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With special thanks to Randy Burba, John Neely, Christine Sullivan, and Beth Hahn—for every last thing.

And with a prayer for healing to all who are presently assailed.

~

on what must be said of Salem, Mass.

I adore the people of Salem, Massachusetts. Flat out adore them. I have been coming to this town via library ships since 1995 and via plane or automobile since 2006—thanks to the generous hospitality of dear friends who call Salem home, plus one signal institution that began as a project of the East India Society in 1799, the PEM (Peabody Essex Museum). Technically (and actually), Salem is a city, but it shall ever remain a seafaring and thus global ‘town’ in my history-hobbled heart. I am writing a great deal more about the people of Salem and Essex County in a book project now, because they created the ship on which much of my historical research is centered (US Frigate ESSEX), but for today I just have to say this one thing to something besides my fieldnotes:

The people of Salem are signally friendly and welcoming, curious and happy to converse (and not simply in superficial ways), and they approach the world in a wide-armed and congenial manner that makes of even the rankest stranger—irrespective of social class or ethnicity or profession or religion or nationality or quirks of personality—a neighbor and friend. Working people here run the gamut from the very wealthy to the very not, and fine neighborhoods are still dotted—deliberately so—with more affordable housing, so that, on even the least errand you meet folks from all walks of life, nearly all of whom make eye contact and exchange genial greetings and sometimes long talks. This kind of stance is a downright rarity in these united states at this point in time (or ever), so it deserves mention. Notice. Emulation, to at least some extent.

I treasure each one of the days I have been privileged to spend in Salem. For a southern Mississippi farm girl raised far from the sea but born into a small community called Friendship, I have found myself at home in Salem in unexpected ways. These people’s nows are rooted in their long past of plying trade routes across the world’s oceans, and it shows, for they have made of diversity this community’s life-blood. We could use more Salems—of this particular ilk—in our world.

The Friendship of Salem

The Friendship of Salem, dockside     October 2014

~

on this morning

Up all night and still ‘overslept': what a great way to start this day!! And it’s autumn,too,  with everything dying bar none (even me) and the leaves turning to bright hues as they shiver and fall to the damp ground, and not one thing could possibly make me feel more alive and glad to be here. Glad for it all. Every last jot. And feeling keenly how fortunate I am to be alive and unassailed—in all the ways that most wreck a being’s time here—on this morning. No, nothing’s ‘fixed’ in my problems or struggles; nothing’s dropped off my To-Do lists or worries; nothing’s flipped a switch so I am no longer aware of suffering, be it my own or another’s. But I exist in all-out wonder today that I made it to 55 and am still standing enough to go for a walk with my oldest little dog in these gorgeous dying, and soon to be decaying leaves.

The one thing I wish for today is that I could somehow give these deep feelings of wonder and joy to every soul on this planet in real-time. Spirits entwined for as long as we all could stand it and then some? What a world we could all make if we could just feel each other’s joys and sufferings for the single split second it would take to know ourselves as One, bar none ever, all simply being while here.

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on half a century and five years with less left to go

Somewhere in this wide weary world I have already passed this milestone, this pleasant middling moment of turning 55, but in the small town where I actually arrived on this planet, it is still some hours away. My mother—while propped up in a hospital bed shortly afterward, in a gorgeous negligee with a princess-cut over-jacket complete with bell-shaped sleeves—wrote about that in a padded pink baby book, making sure I would know for all time that I wasn’t willing to wait for the doctor to show up and instead made my entrance without his help.

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She’s gone now, so I cannot say thanks anymore for all she did after that first nine months and then the several anguished hours it took to get my feet headed for terra firma or all the years afterward she tried to keep them on a viable path. Any list of Things To Thank Mama For is incomplete, but here are a few never far from the top. Mama taught me me to: work hard; not backsass elders even when they deserved it; say Yes ma’am and No sir and Thank you and Please; stick with a task (like piano) until it’s under my skin; rescue a wounded raccoon or deer and nurse it back to life; and pick butter beans in a hard driving rain and enjoy myself.

That I know anything at all about my first few years is due to her habit of documenting them, with an 8mm home movie camera and handwritten notes, and also because she kept telling stories about the early me long after she’d quit writing them down. Following her lead and example, I took up the habit on the cusp of turning five whole years old and have kept it up ever since for all sorts of less-than-entirely-holy reasons.

It would be nice to get a phone call from my mother today, but heaven doesn’t do outbounds, it seems, so I carry on some of our long-ago conversations in snippets, savoring having survived to 50 and 5, feeling not a smidgen of one whit older than 30 in my body and something closer to 15 in my brain. Or possibly 5 tops, on some days. Mama always said I showed up here as full-grown as I was ever going to get. Sometimes this was a compliment and I took it as such. Sometimes it was not and I knew it to the bone, but I persisted and eventually she’d nod my way and agree. She was right, I believe.

I was an old soul on arrival and still am; I aged 50 years in the first letter I penned to the Almighty at age 5, and no part of me can un-know this way of inhaling truth or barging into reality at top speed and determined. It just all is, and so I mark today, unsurprisingly, with a few words. Solely to say I am still here, for half a century and five years and still counting . . . but aware now that I probably have less time left to go than I’ve already served. And I was right, Mama dear, I believe now, not to wait on that doctor. I got 15 more whole minutes of this grand adventure we call life by coming on my own timing and terms. With your help. Thank you for my birthday.

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