God-in-a-Box

Boxed Pastries, Gordes, Provence

Isn’t it lovely how boxing a purchase and adorning it with even the simplest ribbon transforms the contents? Granted, this particular box holds French pastries, and French pastries are pretty closely akin to god-in-a-box. But dress up my single euro baguette like this, and I’m just as happy. Throw in the fact that I can lug home my groceries by a ribbon instead of a plastic bag from Bi-Lo, AND tickle my tootsies on mossy cobblestones instead of blistering asphalt, and I’m good for the day.

Paper, plastic, or bring your own? The issue of waste aside, I’m endlessly charmed by efforts to bring a little magic into the everyday.

This particular magical day was hosted by the local bakery in Gordes, a perched village in the Luberon mountains of Provence, France, on market day. Where I also bought a really cool dress off the street, but that’s another post :)

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Why We Wander, Part 2

Glimpse

Why do we wander? I guess the earliest travelers were hunters and gatherers, moving from here to there as a matter of survival. Then the pioneers, who didn’t crest the mountain looking for a better stereo system, but simply to see what lay ahead on this vast and astonishing earth. And the sailors. What did the sailors seek? Spices. Spices! Powdered passion in thimble servings. A taste of other cultures. The beginnings of a global society.

In the here and now, we Americans have so little reason to leave home. We have access not only to everything we need, but to everything we desire, usually in a dazzling array of options and special features — shoved under our noses and offered in alarmingly painless terms. Not only does the greater world seem to offer less than we can purchase or peruse from a comfortable chair, but travel becomes increasingly ominous with each passing day. Once upon a time, we were wary of flat tires and elusive ATMs. Now it’s the subway bomb, terrorists on the airlines, road rage, and children with guns. We’ve reached an age where there is perhaps more to paralyze us than to summon us hither.

Yet still we roam.

We roam the easy Caribbeans and the quaintly peculiar villages of Europe. We roam nerve-jangling world capitals and the endless, still expanse of the Arctic. We search for ourselves on solitary mountaintops and wander the far reaches of soil and sea for clues to mysteries we can’t even name. We travel because we are curious and insatiable, or even because we’re bored and want an effortless sideshow. We travel for perspective. We travel the easy ways and the hard ways, sometimes spending every last time for the privilege of lugging a backpack for weeks and sleeping on hotel rooftops. We travel to fancy ourselves among the beautiful people. We travel to look into the eyes of the hungry. I’m guessing the early nomadic tribes carried super-dominant genes, and I’m grateful.

Wildflowers on the Ruins

If Maine taught me the shape of a sunflower, Greece knocked me speechless with her version of the human spirit. I spent three weeks alone there determined to search the ancient temple and palace ruins for a renewed sense of the divine. I found more than I could have dreamed in terms of spirit, art, and the ancient footsteps of a race seeking God, but what haunts me still are the 20th century faces that greeted me daily in a tongue so foreign that I had to turn away from language to communicate. Instead, I sought clues in faces lined like palms and eyes that raised in reflection of intellectual activity and lowered with the surge of emotion. I felt the touch of those who were lonely, those who protected, those who loved. Each person I happened upon became to me not  purveyor of words or information, but the full embodiment of a life, a race, a country, a part of our common world — an alternative portrait of humanity. And in this meeting I was granted a supreme privilege and responsibility — the chance to witness a life, up close and personal — and it was as if I had been given a glimpse of God.

And maybe that’s exactly what did happen, simply for the price of looking — of seeing.

But there’s more at stake than my learning to see and the reaping of personal wisdom, no matter how well or how poorly I use it. There is a deeper knowing that resonates not in our brains, but deep enough in our blood and our bones to move us to action. Hear this story. Live this story. Spread this story. I think that’s why sirens call us to sea and strangers extend a hand. They are scattering seeds They are carving little openings through which we can grow.

Someone is calling me. Someone I do not know, someone I will never really know in the sense that I’ve known carpool moms or deskmates, but her story will live in me and help make us both whole, if only I will hear it.

Who am I to do this? Who am I to receive the rumblings of a spirit intent on being heard? I am no more and no less than a space just large enough to receive; a consciousness just large enough to bear witness.

I believe that every story deserves to be told, that every life was created to be held and considered in the thoughts and dreams and gut and action of a stranger. I believe that at this point in my life, I am summoned hither, not to preach or teach or heal or anything grand, but simply to shed my insulation and to see and to know — what? That this is a life. It is as dear as mine. It is as turbulent as mine. It is as brief and as eternal as mine. We are as different, and as alike, as any two lives can be. Any two lives.

For me, it’s all in the seeing. It’s all in the learning to notice and appreciate what is not me. Ego denial and other-affirming. An embrace of all I haven’t yet known, both in others and in myself. A recognition of who I am in all my global incarnations. It is a home leaving. It is a home coming.

The Little Blue Boat

When I was a girl,
my father gave me a little
blue boat.

It was deep and fully broad enough
to hold two laughing girls
with eight knees and elbows altogether.

There was a rope for towing
out on courses charted by our dreams
and pointing fingers,
or grabbing back
if any current dared to lead his girls astray.

We sat and bobbled,
my sister and I,
in pink puckered suits and salty hair,
in the bottom of the little blue boat,
our toes and fingers grazing on the waves,
alert for treasure
or a moment’s cooling.

And my father pulled the boat
from wave to wave,
ocean to ocean,
sea to sea,
and dream to dream,
urging the bow in every direction on the sea and sky
while we squealed and giggled and pointed out
our pleasures.

And when he had shown us both the
way
to every corner
of the round and endless earth,

he dropped the line and waded in
to shore,

leaving us each
a
paddle.

c. Pamela Goode

Why We Wander, Part 1

Beach Path

When I was a girl, we took the same family trip each summer — to the beaches of South Carolina. There was never any thought of going someplace new, never a desire to see or experience any more of this world than the parts we had come to consider “home.” The beaches filled our souls with exactly what was missing after a year of following city pursuits, and we lapped it up and settled back contentedly on the sand. We weren’t seekers in those days; we were replenishers who never misplaced the name of the tonic, and the tonic never failed us.

By the time I hit college, I began to yearn for another home — New Orleans, the city of my birth. And so arose the occasional side trip to reconnect with a farther flung part of my psyche — roadtrips of the long haul variety — booster shots of sidewalk jazz, oily muffulettas, and the incomprehensible accents that burgeon where cultures commingle with the passions particular to steamy intemperate zones. New Orleans was in my blood and, more importantly, my psychological makeup. Every now and then polite society became a little too much, or maybe a little too little (in the way of living), and the thrill of reconnecting with volatile, vivacious, intense emoters called me to a bone-deep home where my every mood swing and caprice could be celebrated as an occasion for a few sweet beignets. In New Orleans, as at the ocean, I knew who I was, and it was good.

When I married, my husband and I took a winter trip to Vermont and Canada. But as much as I thought I wanted to see the Great White North and Proliferance of Pointy Trees, I began to feel the tug back toward my southern compass point almost immediately. I couldn’t get my balance aimed in this new direction. The scenery was spectacularly white and wet and gusty, but I couldn’t get the feel of “me” there. We left three days early, anxious to return to something more familiar where bearings came easily and our thoughts were practiced and comfortable. We went home, and I stayed home for the next thirteen years.

Sunflowers

And then one day I found myself inside a pair of hiking boots standing on the rocky shore of Maine with my sister. It was early September, and I was halfway along the road back from a deep depression. I was far away from home, far away from my husband and children, in a strange place in a strange state of mind with no idea where my life was heading.

And it happened like this: I woke up.

The trip didn’t cure me, but that sense of isolation and emptiness made room for me to drink in sights and sensations that seemed amplified a hundredfold. I became a photographer that week, learning to honor the folds and curls and tears in each petal of a sunflower head bigger than my own, and the etched path of long ago rains moving in myriad directions down the weathered wood of roadside barns. I used my camera like the eye of God, witnessing and celebrating whatever I found. And through a lens, I learned to see: not the majesty of mountains or the infinity of the sea, but the detail, the minutiae, the insignificances that come together to create the glorious whole that is glorious only because of each tiny, imperfect participant in this life.

And a fire lit in me to see it all.