From the Underworld to the Woodcarver: The Power of Changed Metaphor

When I’m visiting the underworld and the way seems long and dark, I need a new metaphor.

The wisdom of Parker Palmer often helps me.

Sharing a hymnbook at my Goshen College inauguration, April 5, 1997.

Parker Palmer singing at my Goshen College inauguration, April 5, 1997. He has a lovely voice. :-) Goshen News photo.

 As I struggled with mountains of memorabilia in the cellar last week,

searching for inspiration while mildew and mold wafted in the air,

I was thinking of Persephone, Demeter, Orpheus, and Dante.

Descending into the underworld is a classic mythological theme.

Those heroic images didn’t seem quite right for this task, however.

That’s when I remembered Parker Palmer’s phrase

“the work before the work.”

based on his study of “The Woodcarver” by Chuang Tzu.

I went back to the poem itself, and found the woodcarver’s explanation

for how he created a beautiful bell tower:

My own collected thoughts
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood:
From this live encounter came the work

I am holding this thought, and collecting other thoughts, as I

enjoy a summer of travel, renewing relationships,

and returning to the box(es) in the basement.

I will travel to The Home Place of my memoir,

One of two sycamore trees that shade the old farmhouse of my youth.

One of two massive sycamore trees that shade the old farmhouse of my youth. now Forgotten Seasons Bed and Breakfast.

Like the wood carver, I will look at each tree in that special place

looking for hidden potential

asking for a live encounter.

Has a new metaphor transformed any of your tasks? How do you return from the underworld? I want to collect as many thoughts as possible!

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Entering the Underworld: Treasure, Moth, Rust, and Corruption

Last September I responded to the question, “Does Blush have a sequel?”

with this blog post, selecting “the box in the basement”

as my next project.

That phrase was a metaphor, of course. I planned to comb through

memorabilia, waiting to hear the gentle siren of the muse.

 I underestimated the task.

Instead of one purple box, I am looking at this scene:

The purple box has moved to the library. Boxes have multiplied!

The purple box has moved to the library. Boxes have multiplied!

The basement has exploded in boxes also.

This space used to be clean and spare. Now look!

This space used to be clean and spare. Now look!

Do these pictures fill you with revulsion or

make you rub your hands in glee?

When my daughter helped me sort through mountains of boxes getting damp in the cellar under our garage,

we remembered together, laughed, and let go.

She got to choose as an adult what matters to her.

We recycled the rest.

We spent four hours last weekend paring down five damp boses into one dry one.

We spent four hours last weekend paring down five damp boxes into one dry one.

Other times, working alone with moldy old slides and floppy discs, the detritus of at least four generations, however, I have sometimes lost heart.

I hear no muses sweetly calling me to write.

I do remember, however, these words pressed into memory.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt.” Matthew 6:19

Down in that cellar, I feel and taste the corruption of time, sometimes literally!

Next week, I’ll share how I decided to change metaphors, searching for a way out of the underworld.

Have you saved a little or a lot of memorabilia? Where are you in the process of organizing and distributing those items? What tips can you offer for those who find the task sometimes overwhelming?

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My Brother the Artist: Uniting Avocation and Vocation

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

–Robert Frost

If you’ve read BLUSH, you met Henry, my younger brother.

When the book ends, Henry, at age 15, looks like this.

Henry and his Argus 35 mm camera purchased with S & H green stamps. 1966.

Henry and his Argus 35 mm camera purchased with S & H green stamps. c.1966.

His new camera educated his youthful eye.

Now a physical therapist, he has resumed his avocation of photography.

When I asked him what he aims for, he says,

“I hope to capture light in digital photography, to illuminate details that might ordinarily go unseen . . .

to capture the beauty of living things.”

A lion in Kenya, selected as part of the Manheim Township Public Library photo exhibit, 2015

Henry's photo, taken in Kenya, now hanging in the Manheim Township Public Library

I think you’ll agree that he has captured detail,

and that he illuminates the beauty of living things.

Like the poet Robert Frost,

he is learning to unite his avocation and vocation.

Henry and I are both following paths first traveled in childhood. What hobby or avocation have you had that has persisted or come full circle in your life? How does it relate to your own “object of living?”

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Wedding Blessings Revive the Magical Memoir Moments of Childhood

Weddings produce Magical Memoir Moments by their very nature.

They fill us with hope.

Parents feel a special joy tinged with sadness.

Mothers often weep inside as they embrace daughters.

Mother, Kate, and me. May 8, 2010.

Mother, Kate, and me. May 8, 2010.

The most popular blog post I ever wrote

shares the wedding blessings Stuart and I gave to Kate and Nik in 2010.

We instinctively chose to focus on memories, poetry, and spiritual mentors.

Our little girl skipped into our hearts again.

Spinning colorful cartwheels on the trampoline

Kate loves all the colors. Her favorite at age 5: hot pink!

Kate loves all the colors. Her favorite at age 5: hot pink!

She selected her own outfits,

crafting a truly unique fashion sense

and sharing it with her kitty named Pronoun.

Kate and Pronoun

Kate and Pronoun

On her wedding day, we reviewed our daughter’s growth

like a sped up old movie

in slow motion.

We welcomed Nik and his parents into our family.

We rejoiced, we wept a little, and we knew God understood.

 Is there a June wedding on your calendar? Do you have a wedding memory to share? Have you ever written a wedding blessing? Please share!

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The Ultimate Touchstone of Friendship: Witness

Tina, Mary, me, Gloria. Graduation Day, 1970.

Tina, Mary, me, Gloria. Graduation Day, 1970.

Mary, Tina, and Gloria were the main characters in the mini memoir of my life called The College Years.

Here we are about to graduate. Tina appears to have the stage.

There were a few things we still didn’t know. :-)

Like all graduates, we had no idea of where we would ultimately live, travel, or work.

We scattered.

We wanted to stay close, but it was hard to do.

Sometimes we wrote letters. Sometimes we called. Sometimes we even got together.

After a decade, there were children.

After a few more decades, the children began to fly away.

So we flew also, back to each other.

We celebrated our 50th birthdays together, starting an annual tradition.

Now we are all grandmothers.

Can you match the faces in the photo above with the ones below?

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May, 2015

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May, 2015

We graduated from college, but we didn’t graduate from friendship!

Today I read this wonderful meditation on friendship by the poet David Whyte.

Here are his concluding words:

the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Do you agree with David Whyte? Please testify below!

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Commencement: Go Where There Is No Path

Graduation Day, 1970, Elvin Kraybill, me, Myron Augsburger,  Conrad Brunk. Truman Brunk

Graduation Day Eastern Mennonite College, 1970: Elvin Kraybill, me, Myron Augsburger, Conrad Brunk. Truman Brunk

 ”Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Graduation Day 1970.

I was nervous and excited.

My friend Elvin and I were the student commencement speakers.

We marched with the college president.

After that day, we would not see each other for another decade.

Elvin became a lawyer practicing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I became a professor at Goshen College.

Both of us pioneered new roles.

We met again when my father was very ill.

Our family needed a lawyer. Elvin was there.

The will he drew up allowed Mother to keep the Home Place when Daddy died.

Daddy's gravestone. D. May 3, 1980. Age 55.

Daddy's gravestone. D. May 3, 1980. Age 55..

I went back home to Indiana.

Elvin and I met again in 1997 when Elvin chaired the Mennonite Board of Education

Once more we stood together on a platform looking out at a large audience.

He inaugurated me into the office of college president.

We laughed about meeting again on a stage neither of us foresaw in 1970.

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Elvin Kraybill (nearly hidden), Victor Stoltzfus, me, 1997

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Myrl Nofziger, Elvin Kraybill (nearly hidden), Victor Stoltzfus, me, 1997. Goshen College inauguration.

Name someone you know who has gone where there is no path.

Now think of one way you too have broken new ground. What is it about your life that you could not have foreseen at commencement?

I wish the Class of 2015 a life full of friends in time of need, surprises along the way, and jubilation in the end. Want to add a story or a good wish of your own? Please leave a comment below.

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When the Lost Thing Appears: The Completion of a Circle

Those white gloves! Spring Banquet 1967.

Spring Banquet 1967.

A month ago, I looked everywhere I could think of

for Spring Banquet photos.

Then last week, looking for a photo of our friend Joel,

I found the two pictures that had eluded my search.

With my banquet beau, Spring Banquet 1967
With my banquet beau, Spring Banquet 1967

Here is the date who found the corsage I lost.

Sometimes when our minds are totally consumed by other thoughts, we find a lost object.

Sometimes the story isn’t complete until we find the picture.

Can you relate?

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Our Friend Joel’s Life Legacy: Eternal Laughter and Love

Joel Kauffmann about 1985

Joel Kauffmann about 1985

I had planned to write about graduation.

Now it is otherwise.

I had planned to enjoy a riotous old age with this man as friend.

Now it is otherwise.

Our friend Joel, cartoonist, script writer, story teller, died May 8.

He was walking with his wife Nancy.

The hidden clot in his lung grabbed him.

He fell backward, hard, head on concrete.

A week later we friends came.

Happier Days: Our "small group" gathers in New York City, 2009. Joel center right.

Happier Days: Our "small group" gathers in New York City, 2009. Joel center right.

Carrying bouquets of stories.

Discovering so many other “best friends,” their own memory posies clutched tightly.

We cried and laughed. Laughed and cried. Together.

At College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana,

We sang and played our hearts out,

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Jesus Loves Me

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow

Sudden death is a terrible thing. Sudden community, a balm in Gilead.

If you knew Joel, please leave a memory below. If you have lost a friend without warning, what did you do to assuage the loss? How have you continued to remember that friend? Where did you find comfort?

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The Red, Red Rose of Memory: A Surprise Update

Red rose preserved in scrapbook from Spring Banquet, 1967

Red rose preserved in scrapbook from Spring Banquet, 1967

This rose is 48 years old.

When it dropped from my shoulder in the dark,

my date promised to come back the next morning and look for it.

He found it along the path we walked on College Avenue.

Why do I still have this rose?

Because my “date” became my husband.

And his trip back to the street to find the rose

was a gesture that became his signature.


New sidewalk, old memory.

New sidewalk, old memory.

Recently we walked on College Avenue, retracing the steps Stuart took

very early in a spring morning, 1967.

We laughed at our romantic memory when we saw the sign,

the new sidewalk,

and the portable john.

Nothing stays the same forever. Not even carefully preserved roses.

Writing Prompt: can you think of an action, a gesture, that has become a signature in your life? Someone else’s life? Have you preserved any items that you might want to revisit? Let’s talk about it below!

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An Old Tree Growing Stronger: The Thrill of Discovering My Younger Self

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

Walking across campus with my college sweetheart brings back many memories.

Outside the chapel, a tree stopped my in my tracks.

“This is the one!” I exclaimed.

I recognized the branches, remembered climbing into them as a college senior.

I rushed home to look at the yearbook picture again.

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

Do you see what I see? The same tree at nearly the same time of year,

45 years later.

That young woman has no idea she will be so excited, 45 years later, to find this tree.


Writing Prompt

 Did you carve your initials into a tree when you were young? Make a mark some other way? In wet concrete? Wet paint?

Do you have a special tree like the one above? What feelings do you have as you rediscover the old place?

Bonus: Here’s John Prine singing about Old Trees just growing stronger.

I remember listening to this song as a young mother wondering what old age would be like. 

How about you? Say hello in the comment section below!

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