Tag Archives: Remarriage

Little White Churches

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My heart can’t resist them.

A couple years of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, circa 1970s, I realized that I wanted to live in a church.

I found a little white clapboard Baptist church near Panther Falls, Virginia.   Abandoned, because the people lost faith in the midst of poverty.   But it was still structurally solid and safely nestled inside a grove of poplar trees and scrub oak.

The steeple looked like the base of an old windmill. Above the door was a round stained glass window, with red and blue hues, that reminded me of Jupiter.

Inside, the pews were lined in rows of horizontal soldiers. A grid work of dark wood and red velvet seat cushions. The room was small but it felt spacious because of the ascending ceiling and the choir loft that touched the clouds when fog descended.

The sunlight that crept through the trees was misty by the time it met the colored windows lining the building’s side walls. The interior was a mixture of light and dark and every color of the rainbow in-between. It was peaceful and solemn.

I love churches when they are empty.

Always have.

Those beautiful little handcrafted edifices without rituals, but with the accessories necessary to conduct one as décor.

A place to be still.

A place to call home.

I was too poor to buy that church and unable to convince the owners to rent it, but I still harbor a yearning to live in that Appalachian church-home.

I have thought lovingly of it for three+ decades. Every time I drive by a little white church of any denomination, my heart rejoices.

After I moved to the village of Estancia, New Mexico, several years back, I quickly discovered that around the corner from my tiny house was one of the sweetest white churches of all times.

Methodist.

Not acquainted with the religion, but I fell in love with the building. And when I learned that the back door was kept unlocked, on weekday afternoons after work, I’d slip in, sit on the red velvet cushion, and gaze through the painted glass windows. Noting that the southern exposures were singed – the edges of Jesus’ garments and the corners of the Last Supper’s tablecloth all charred and curling.

The wooden pews were arranged in arcs, with two aisles, like a huddle around the pulpit. Behind the lectern were tables draped in white fabrics that support forests of white taper candles.

I’d sit silently at different degrees of the arcs. Each radial angle reflective in a different color or shadow. I’d bow my head in some form of prism prayer.

Sitting in this church – alone – always washed me clean. Something about the simplicity of white that calms and renews.

I don’t yet understand my passion for little white wooden churches, but they invite my heart in.

They inspire confession.

When I feel filthy, a white church is my soap and washcloth.

And often I have some crazy sense of unclean.

I am always housecleaning; I am always heart-cleaning.

What am I obsessed with washing away?

Vacuuming some sin from the floor boards of my heart?

Scouring the toilet bowl of my soul?

Dusting the mantle of my mind?

Why is life – so messy – that I devote a lifetime to cleaning my space-of-being?

That I sit in empty churches to inhale purity?

That I focus my meditation upon the white fabrics draping from altars?

Sometimes I find my inner being crawling through the tunnels and webs of woven fibers, searching for the secret of the shroud.

I have never understood this passion for textiles either.

Maybe because fabric is tangible. Because I can see it constructed from its source – from the flax plants and silkworms and cotton pods.

I can track its progression. I can touch and smell its existence. I can also get lost in the fantasy of its lavish embroidery and festive beadwork.

I’m no fan of the new gospel churches that believe in bare warehouses as places of undistracted worship.

I need the distraction of beauty.

Especially the pageantry of ecclesiastical textiles.

I like sparse, but I need highlights of fabric embellishment. Lightly speaking: Holy dust clothes move me.

Sometimes I think that my deepest faith lies in empty churches and fabric. Somewhere in the honeycombs of stitchery, a wing of truth waits.

In a dust mote. In a spider’s dew-damp leg. In a tendril from a tightly-plied linen thread.

It’s absurdly simple. And mind-twistingly complex: sitting in empty white churches, contemplating sacred textiles, I find some sort of rogue religion.

And how happy was I, after remarrying, to find a tiny, tattered, white church about a mile away from my new home on the prairie.

A safe haven.

It offers peace of presence: Just knowing it’s sitting there .  .  . wind-beaten and bare .  .  . on a lonely dirt road.

A bit like someone’s stained and gritty coffee cup left behind.

My Odyssey From a Haircut to a Husband

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Is it really possible for a hairstylist’s cape to be a hangman’s halter? A means of unlawful restraint? An instrument of torture and interrogation?

Yes. It is. Especially in the loving hands of Eduardo, my decade+ hairdresser and friend.

Now, let me back up a bit and explain how I ended up in his “executioner’s chair” for three hours of captivity. Several years earlier, I’d suffered through an unforeseen and agonizing divorce that was finalized within five weeks and left me alone, jobless, homeless, and reeling from trauma. To heal my heartbreak, I’d moved to a tiny village about 65 miles south of Santa Fe – the city I’d called home and muse for seventeen years.

This tiny-tot-of-a-town was isolated in the midst of the high plains. And seriously lost in a time warp. It was so similar, in fact, to the spirit of my 1950’s childhood neighborhood, that I immediately felt familiar and embraced.

The town’s name translates from Spanish into, “The Resting Place.” Perfect, I thought. I can hide out, lick my wounds, and remodel an old house as I rebuild my soul. It was lonely enough that I was sure I’d never be at risk to fall in love again. It would just be me and my little house on the edge of miles and miles of prairie.

After three years of a love affair with solitude – of staring at air, of journaling daily with spontaneous abandon, of dating myself – I was feeling pleased that as a woman in her mid-fifties, I could create my own fulfillment and live a peaceful life.

One day, in 2009, it occurred to me that I needed to have my hair cut and colored. A minor outer transformation that reflected my inner shifts. So, I made an appointment with my big-city stylist.

When I arrived at the salon, he ordered me into a smock and then into a chair and then wrapped me snugly with a cape – tightening the Velcro fasteners around my neck with such force, I gasped for what I feared would be my final full breath of air.

Before I could focus, Eduardo spun the chair around so I was facing the mirror and he was standing behind me – armed with his utility belt full of scissors and razors and other weapons of mass re-construction. It was a sunny winter day. One of New Mexico’s unbelievably crisp, cold days with a crystalline-blue sky that looked like it had been colored with a Crayola crayon clenched in the fist of an over-zealous child. Grunge mail boxes in California Mohave desert USAThe sunlight poured in like caramel through the side window. There I sat: snapped, clipped, bound and gagged in its spotlight.

“Let’s give you a fresh look. Lots of layers, releasing your natural curl. A shiny platinum color to complement your winter tan.”

“Yes. Perfect,” I muttered, as I closed my eyes and settled in for pampering.

It soon became clear, however, that Eduardo had a secondary agenda. There arose questions about my social life; hints about the limits of solitude; suggestions about a need for intellectual stimulation.

Him: “You know, girl, a few of my clients have met wonderful men. One is even engaged to be married.”

Me: Silent.

Him: “And they’ve all met these men through one of two online dating sites.”

Me: Silent. Stomach muscles knotting.

Him: “I have one address written down. Let me get it for you.”

Me: Panic.

He handed me a yellow sticky note with a URL scribbled on it. “Here. Take this home with you and give it a look. It’s free. And, who knows, you may find someone in your same town!”

Me: Silently thinking, “And ruin my perfectly quiet life?? Date – at my age? Awkward. Plus, think of how many creeps are roaming the Internet? No thanks!”

Him: “Seriously, girl. I’ve known you for years and I know you needed time alone to grieve, but, I think you’re losing yourself in loneliness. You’re a dynamic person. You need to return to your true self before it’s too late.”

Me: “Are you kidding me? I love my new life!”

And so, for three hours, I was held hostage in that chair until I promised to search the dating website. I agreed just so I could go home to my uninterrupted peace.

The next day was Saturday. That evening, my DVD had not arrived in the mail, so, my private Saturday-Night-at-the-Movies date was canceled. I wandered over to my computer and saw the yellow sticky note I’d carelessly tossed on the keyboard. It haunted me. Enough that I felt compelled to fulfill my promise. To render myself righteous, so to speak.

I typed in the address, waited for the dial-up service to connect, and then read the instructions for browsing. They required that a personal profile be submitted before granting permission to enter the sacred site. A waste of words, I thought. But, eventually, I pretended that I was facing my journal instead of a computer screen, and let spill a lyrical description of myself and my interests.

I submitted it, without editing, and spent the entire evening perusing the options within a 300-mile radius of my town. It was mesmerizing. The photos. The stories. The desires. The lies. It was romance and intrigue I’d never experienced before.

By midnight, I’d found three possibilities. One wanted a woman one-year younger than I. I wrote a brief message anyway, and sure enough – no response. (Oh, I forgot to mention. Being limited to dial-up, I wasn’t able to upload my photo.) So, I couldn’t really blame anyone for ignoring me!

Another man, who traveled the world for his spiritually-based nonprofit, seemed interesting. So, another brief message that met with no reply. (Of course, he’s probably in Tibet with no access to WiFi!)

Yet another man lived in the town where I attended church. His pictures expressed a cowboy persona, but, his writing style was very witty and professional. To him, I sent a flirtatious “wink.”

The next morning, I found a message from him. Lengthy, detailed, and highly complimentary of my poetic profile. With one more trial day remaining, I was able to write back.

We exchanged many messages that weekend and discovered many common interests. When the free trial period ended, I asked if he’d like to continue a correspondence. His response was immediate and positive. I promised to mail photos of myself, so we wouldn’t be unbalanced. But it almost didn’t matter because we’d fallen in love with each other’s words!

After a week, we met and lunched at a café. Turns out that two passionate wordsmiths can be ambidextrous: both agile on screen and nimble of voice.

We dated for nearly a year, surprisingly minus any awkwardness. And in the heart of autumn, we married. In a truly romantic ceremony, we exchanged vows in a white gazebo beneath a starlit Las Vegas night.

Several years later, Hubby and I are still sharing love for each other and for words. Two writers, united in matrimony, with a little help from a catalytic hair stylist.

Who would have guessed that a haircut could lead to a husband, and a new life lived in the magic of wordlore.

Small Towns, Ghost Towns and Abandonment

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Main street in american townI have long loved small towns, even though, or, perhaps because, I grew up in cities and metropolitan regions.

There is something very nurturing to me about life in a small town. It’s gentler and calmer. And even when small towns lose their people, I love their remnants. A ghost town or a partially-abandoned village coaxes out my maternal instincts. I find myself wanting to adopt them, love them, color them with many shades of grace. Nelson Ghost town

So after my divorce nine years ago, it was perfectly appropriate that I move to a tiny village in the middle of miles and miles of New Mexican prairie. And since the town was abandoned in sections, I felt at-one with it because I’d also been abandoned by love.

For three+ years I lived in The Resting Place, as translated from Spanish, and rebuilt a house, my soul, and my creativity.

In honor of this sacred time of my life, and, primarily in homage to the very special and solitary barn owl who adopted me, I’ve written a short story.

Barn Owl

    A FEATHERED MIRACLE

I’ve been conflicted about barn owls for quite a while.

Why barn owls? Well, they’re beautiful, stealthy, mysterious creatures that allure me. But, one killed my newborn kitten, China Blue, years ago in the backwoods of Virginia. And that left me queasy.

I’ve since changed my heart dramatically.

Let’s fast forward three decades. The year is 2007. I’m suddenly and traumatically divorced. I’m living out on the high plains of New Mexico in a tiny village. I’m hiding out for a spell; for recovery. I’m hiding primarily from men. Because I’m wounded, I want the warmth of women around me. I swear I’ll never date or marry another man. I want only friendship with men – and that’s friendship with no benefits.

During the first year of cloistering, I spent much time rebuilding a house and remodeling my soul. Prayer and meditation and journaling were daily ablutions. I was living in self-imposed isolation and beginning to feel like a saint in a shanty, or, perhaps, a monk minus a monastery. Whenever reclusiveness transformed into desolation, I’d go out for a walk. Commune with nature. Breathe deeply that sacred air of open space.

On one of my wanderings, I walked down the gravel driveway, following the scalloped edges of decorative bricks that outlined a row of Siberian elm trees. When I wasn’t staring at air, I often gazed at the ground. The dirt, as fine as talcum powder, fascinated me. The botanical beauty that survived despite such lean resources awed me. So, in this frame of mind, I was watching my feet crunch grey gravel, when, abruptly, I almost stepped on a large, oval-shaped, tobacco-colored ball. At quick glance, it could have been dog dung; on second inspection, I noticed the smooth, dry coating. Cigar-like in texture.

With a stick, I poked and prodded until the shell fractured and revealed a huddle of tiny bones – even a skull – all the size and shape of a mouse. That’s when I thought: Raptor. So, I looked directly upward, through the elevator shaft of leafy branches, right in the top “V,” and met a pair of eyes staring at me from the soft beauty of an apple-shaped face.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oh my goodness, it was a barn owl, perched just ten feet from my house.

Was it a temporary visitation or a permanent resident, I wondered. Having raised a variety of birds in my life, I knew instinctively it was a male, and it felt strangely protective. Almost as though he’d arrived by divine decree.

I inspected the ground each morning for a week, found a daily cluster of “bone-balls,” as I called them, and made contact with staring eyes from above. By this time, I knew he was a permanent installation. I also knew he had a name. We locked eyes and I uttered “Oscar.” He telescoped his head slightly farther forward, in approval or recognition it seemed. We connected.

I had wanted no male interruption, but, Oscar was stunningly gorgeous and calm and faithful. He hunted every night and I inspected his catch every morning. By the quality and quantity of his bounty, I knew he was a great hunter. And he was also solitary. So many other owls around town were coupled, but Oscar wanted to be alone in the “V” of this one particular tree, so he could triangulate me.

Potentially eerie, but, his steadfast presence brought such nobility and peace to my life that I relaxed. I accepted him as a holy gift and a mentor. When my heart was especially troubled, I’d stand at the base of the tree and talk with him. I’d ask him to share his wisdom and guidance. He did so faithfully. After every “conversation,” I’d feel an inner tingling; a quiet little voice that whispered an answer.

This amazing relationship continued to grow. Some of my neighbors noticed me talking to a tree and stopped by to inquire. I’d then introduce Oscar, and, invariably, they’d smile and a new conversation would begin. I actually came to meet humans and develop friendships. Gradually, I loosened my grasp on reclusion. I even had men come and work on my property. Oscar scrutinized each one with grave caution. It was a silent battle of testosterone, and I was intrigued by his perceptiveness. The more macho the man, the more distressed Oscar became.

I knew I could trust Oscar’s instincts, so, when I dared myself to enter the dating game, I carefully watched for his assessments.

One man, who parked his truck and camper in my driveway, received a hailstorm of bone-balls on his vehicles. After two dates, Lee and I decided that friendship was our best option for connection. Oscar ceased pelting.

In 2009, I began dating a man who was brawny and manly, yet very sensitive. A strong balance of male and female energy. Oscar nearly lost his balance trying to stretch out far enough to examine Ron. I could tell Oscar was more interested in this man than any male who’d set foot on my property for any purpose. I asked Ron to step over to the tree and meet my feathered friend. He did so with delight, and Oscar was so serene and sweet toward him. He reacted with gentleness every time Ron came by, and they developed a little bromance.

By October 2009, Ron and I had decided to marry. I had to sell my darling cottage, and I was heartbroken to say goodbye to Oscar. I explained the whole situation, gave him directions to our new home, and asked him to join us after the honeymoon. He listened with deep compassion every day, until I finally had to pack my trousseau, and head to Las Vegas for the wedding.

By this time, I felt my bond with Oscar to be unwavering. I was convinced he’d wait for my return and travel the 30 miles to the new house. I picked out a tall aspen tree in the front courtyard that I thought he’d love. It was right next to the house, and surrounded by fifteen acres of hunting ground. He listened intently, seeming to memorize the flight pattern.

Ron and I returned ten days later from our honeymoon, and my heart sank when I scanned the baring tree and was met only with Oscar’s absence. No fresh bone-balls were at the tree’s base. I watched and searched for weeks, but, he never reappeared. Once settled in the new place, I called him from my heart. But our aspen grove remained owl-less.

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

To this day, the mystery of Oscar haunts me with a sweet sadness. I miss his perpetual presence, but, I accept that he fulfilled his divine mission. He coaxed me forth from solitude, and back into the world of dynamic interactions, happiness, and spiritual growth.

He will always be my coach, my confidante, my wisdom-guide, and my messianic miracle.