Our Home, Not My Home

Post date: Jan 15, 2020 3:36:56 PM

Cardigan Mt. - oil painting in progress

I have been working on a painting of Mt. Cardigan and I was fortunate enough to be able to hike to the top of it recently to breathe in the splendor of that place. My entire family went with me. My husband helped me to identify the peak names that are in my painting. My whole family was wearing hats that I made specially for them and I felt loved in the act of having them worn. A gift born of love. A gift created and offered. A gift accepted. A gift cherished and valued.

It was a sunny winter day with wind-shaped snow clinging to the short alpine trees and our microspikes clinked on the ice as they gripped our feet to the earth. The hike was one we have done countless times, and when I break the treeline onto the granite bald top, I always pause, turn and drink in the view. I offer a prayer of gratitude to be able to live in such a beautiful place. Yesterday was no different. It is a place that fills me with contentment. It is a place that puts ease into my body. Slowly I feel my shoulders relax.

As you climb higher and higher, the trees begin to change from deciduous to coniferous. Soon there is a fragrant piney smell that makes you want to breathe deeply, drinking in calm, expelling tension. The trees get shorter. And as you look, you see the dirt is so shallow; there is mostly granite. And yet these trees press their roots down, down, down - breaking through even the tiniest of crevices to stay rooted. They are short and wind battered, but they stay firmly fixed in place. They are little miracles to me.

New England has been categorized by its lack of religion, especially in contrast to the southern and interior states. In particular, according to a Gallup poll, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire are the most irreligious states in the union. When I moved here in 2005, I had no idea what I was to face. It was here that I would wrestle my anger and PTSD resulting from a traumatic childhood. It was also a place that was not immune to more turmoil. It was here that I developed Asherman’s syndrome, resulting in serious health problems, the loss of a little girl in late term pregnancy, and more than a month long hospital stay. It was a time of physical devastation, marital upheaval, depression and spiritual angst. It was in the most unlikely place and time I can imagine for myself to learn to taste healing. Yet, this is a place I value because it is exactly where this healing and deep change in me happened.

I have heard it said that you can only love what you know. The Upper Valley is a place I value because it is where I came to know God’s goodness. His goodness was shown to me through the natural beauty of the Upper Valley, by my husband's faithfulness, by the support of people at church, and by my neighbors and community in Canaan. It was these shafts of love piercing one of my darkest times that helped me to believe in something bigger than myself. It was a feeble trust at first, but somehow it rooted. When my life was filled with bitter despair, something good and beautiful inside me grew. Seemingly, there was nothing for faith to cling to, and yet, here it is. A little miracle. Just like the trees clinging to the granite top of Mt. Cardigan.

I celebrate this place because I want my children to see that transformation concretely - to understand that all things are redeemable even when hope is lost. I want my children to know that miracles happen. I want them to have a physical place to see and touch when they feel hopeless someday. I want them to know God’s presence can break through even their darkest hour, just like they saw happen to their mother.

The very first sentence of the Bible is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth …. And it was good” Later in this creation account, it says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them … and it was very good.” This text is over 3000 years old and is valued as a historical document by both secular and religious scholars alike. Humanity is very good. Whether you believe the Bible to be true or not, it cannot be denied that for over 3000 years, many have believed that creativity, beauty, making things, generation of new, is the foundation for all of humanity and civilization. For me, the very beginning of this ancient text defines art: beauty born of goodness and offered as a gift of love.

Not so long ago I was in the pottery studio and I was trying to throw a particular shaped pot on the wheel. I was struggling with it, and created several failed blobs. I asked my friend, Pat, if she would let me watch her throw one. She took the time to slow down the process for me to truly observe her pressure, her hand placement, her process. Afterward, I asked if she minded if I tried to make that same thing, or if it was a bother to be copied. She replied, “it is always the highest compliment to be imitated.”

Imitation is an expression of love, but we must choose wisely what to imitate - what to love.

And we must remember that love is not a feeling of butterflies and rainbows. Certainly, it can contain those emotions, but there is plenty of grit and determination involved in love. Love is a choice. It is caring for and tending of something. It is choosing to steward and protect. It is showing up. Even when those butterflies and rainbows are fleeting. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it is awkward and hard. We choose to love.

The Upper Valley, and Canaan in particular, are important to me. But the Upper Valley is not just my home. It belongs to a whole community. My work is love made tangible. While creating does benefit me, my work is not solely for myself. It is for my community. It is a gift - like a hat made in love and then worn to the top of a mountain.

Often I hear people mourn their lack of community. Talking to people from all different backgrounds I have noticed a common sense of “not belonging”. These feelings tend to isolate people. With the growth of technology and the digital age, our interactions with one another have decreased. Our isolation has slowly crept in and grown without us realizing. And we have made our own places of comfort by consuming like-minded things. Online and with the advent of cars, we rarely need to interact in non-homogeneous spaces. There is an online “community” for anything and everyone. Don’t like what they have to say on Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat? Just delete their friendship. Because of our lack of interaction with neighbors and people in our physical communities, our ideological differences seem heightened. We no longer see our commonalities.

I am deeply troubled by the state of our government. I have great concern for many of the political hot topics of the day. But what distresses me the most is how I see wedges being driven into our everyday interactions with one another. With the impeachment trials of President Trump, I hear both sides using destructive language and tones, lobbing insults at one another, sometimes in the form of “jokes”. But it is not funny. We make snap judgments and harshly write off people who think differently from us. Suddenly conservatives are being called Christian fascists and racist bullies, while liberals are being called immoral socialists and out-of-touch elites. There are “make them cry again” hats. There are “pussy” hats. Anger, fear and hate are consuming both sides. It has become so partisan that we can’t sit at a table and civilly discuss anything with someone not from our camp.

But I encourage you to choose to love your place. Choose to love your community. Choose to participate. Go to the library. Go to town events. Share a flower from your garden with your neighbor. Bake banana bread and visit the elderly woman up the street. Make eye contact. Learn people’s names. Show up. Share a coffee. Let love grow from tending and caring. Be active and purposeful in your choice of what to love.

Though these little acts were once common, they now seem culturally strange and uncomfortable. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors’ names. These actions are not just for the benefit of the “other”. If we cannot love what we do not know, then we must allow ourselves to be known in order to experience love. In the act of loving your place, you come to know all of the goodness and all of the flaws, but your goodness and flaws become known too. The only way for us to conquer this hate that has so perfectly corrupted our society and so effectively perpetuated this cultural war, is to know one another. And in that knowing, we become empathetic to one another’s perspectives. Understanding is generated. Assumptions of ill intent are diminished. Grace is extended. We will never agree on everything, but gall can be eradicated.

Take a look at the paintings I have been making this year. They are of the Upper Valley. They are of OUR home. They are to remind you we have so much in common. We are more alike than not. We are from the same place and share the same space and see the same things. Our children share classrooms and teachers. Our taxes pay for the same town offices. We know what Listen is and how to make do with few restaurants. We know who to call for cord wood. We can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone familiar. Our lives are linked in so many ways. Our pasts may have been vastly different and our perspectives may not align, but our present is undeniably similar just by sharing space. Like those alpine trees growing so beautifully where there is mostly hard granite and very little rich soil, we must choose to let our care for one another press down, down, down. We must look for the crevices in our fear and anger filled lives to find where love and patience and gentle words can happen.

I want my art to remind us of our common ground; use it as a starting block from which to form relationships with one another. Only then can we mend our political brokenness and reconcile our different ideologies. Our brokenness will not be fixed with the outcome of the 2020 election, regardless of who comes out on top. We must choose to quiet our anger and listen to one another now. We must choose to have empathy now. We must chose words and tones of respect now. The situation is dire. We cannot choose to wait until November. We cannot choose to entertain false hopes. We cannot choose to wait to love. We must choose to love now, and we must love wisely.