September 26, 2010

Joe Sample, Elizabeth Spires and autumn’s heaven

Where is the spirit, the sense of being in the presence of the creator, whatever that might mean? I found myself asking while at a jazz concert at Blue’s Alley on Friday, September 24, 2010. Joe Sample, jazz pianist and composer was playing and chatting with the small but packed crowd at this club in Georgetown here in D.C. If you don’t know who Joe Sample is, and I didn’t until that evening, I say, You should. Not only for his music but for what he is doing while on tour at age 71. He played songs that I now know made his fame and that he wrote: “Rainbow Seeker” and “Freedom Sound” along with “The Nearness of You” that old favorite written in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Ned Washington and made famous by Glenn Miller and Nat King Cole.

For a review of the performance go here to Marie Gullard in the Washington Examiner. 

My sense of the evening was that I had been in church or synagogue, in the best senses of those words. Sample played possessed by the power of the Yamaha and the artery that flowed from his heart. It is heart that we heard in those fabulous old hands that have not aged on the keyboard. It is spirit that we heard in his words. He chatted between songs and I did not take notes. I was enthralled. My memory of what he said:

That when he looked for money for what he did, it didn’t come. When he did what he needed to do, it did. That he doesn’t know who or how many remember him but that he lives this music: He once beat his piano in anger at age six when his parents made him play it. Little did he know that he was beating up the source of who he is. That he’s on tour at age 71 while he’s taking Coumadin; thus, without knowing it perhaps, he brought the heart into the conversation, as he admitted that some times his memory of what he’ll play next is off. Not true. The ingenuousness of the comment hit the mark the way his hands hit the keys.

And I recalled that John Donne said in one of his sermons, “In heaven it is always autumn.” Here is a bit of that line in context:

God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; in Paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in heaven it is always autumn, his mercies are ever in their maturity.

Joe Sample lives in that autumn. He plays in that season and the mercies come to those who listen. He led me further than I’d been.

Elizabeth Spires, took Donne’s line for the title of a poem she wrote for her friend and mentor Josephine Jacobsen:

“In Heaven It Is Always Autumn”

—John Donne

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven's path no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven's calm, they take each other's arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down, the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that's said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?
Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we're here, I think it must be heaven.

—Elizabeth Spires from Now the Green Blade Rises 

When I read this poem and all the poems in this beauty of a book, I wrote to Spires, a long letter about the poems. This last poem reaches a climactic height of both beauty, meaning and the wisdom of autumn.

Here is what I told her in the close of that letter:

I shall always know what you have written and shall seek your work forevermore, for in this book, Elizabeth Spires, “… you have led me farther than I have ever been.”

Yesterday, Heather John of The Foodinista, of Bon Appetít and Herman Miller Life Work fame  wrote me a personal note about the recovery from a great illness of someone close to her who knows this autumn and knows it with humor and grace. She wrote me, a stranger, who had commented on her blog when his photo appeared, a simple thought of the beauty of the man, but in my heart I knew might be ill. She wrote me then a personal note to tell me that was so. With her update to me yesterday—we've not been in communication—of her deeply personal journey and his remarkable recovery, she gave the gift of light and led me, with this unearned gesture, farther.

In the autumn of my life, I know that heaven and life are one and that I live that heaven each day. And that, as Martin Buber says, “All real living is meeting.”

September 09, 2010

The grace and beauty that is JAKI SCARCELLO

With great honor, I introduce you today to Jaki Scarcello. This extraordinary and beautiful woman has written the book Fifty & Fabulous! The Best Years of a Woman's Life 

Jaki tells us how to age, how to live deeply and fully, how to find grace with age.

Early in the book Jaki quotes Joan Erickson, the wife of psychologist Eric Erickson. On her 94th birthday Joan said,
Our bodies wear out, our thoughts come more slowly. But our life cycles are our most creative effort. We can’t ever not be in them, right? The struggle is to try and obtain a sense of participation in your life the whole way through.
Jaki is a living, breathing example of this spirit. She embodies these words in the way she interacts with the world, with everyone she meets and with the word, as you will see below in her guest essay. You will be lucky to meet her. And meet her you may:

Here are two opportunities, coming up September 26 in Los Angeles and October 7 in Toronto.

Jaki is present in her life and she has become present in mine. Here is what she has written, a gift to me beyond measure. With my thanks, I offer you Jaki Scarcello:

Ode to Honesty and Friendship

This week I read (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story by Mary L Tabor.

I say that as if it were an admission of a great event in my life. Read on and judge for yourself.

I committed myself to devouring (Re)Making Love in one seating, in the middle of the night locked in my home office tower after a particularly horrid fight with my husband. Well, all fights are horrid to me. I am a marital pacifist and that is either a deep psychological dysfunction or a very good reason to want to be married to me.

I had wept upon the floor of that office for hours until I was nauseous and my arms and hips ached with tension and the resistance of the fine bamboo beneath me. Then I thought, Enough, no sleep is coming here. So I turned on the light and opened Mary’s book. Such strange, cosmically directed timing to read about love found, bruised and stretched to its limit and then . . .oops I can’t tell you the ending . . . while I am weeping from the very real possibility that I  have lost again at love. In that dark night of my marital soul I entertained the thought that perhaps I must try to begin again. I prayed for help, preferably in the form of a divine messenger, and guess what? My God sent Mary L Tabor.
Mary is the angel of honesty and I am in awe of her ability to run nude across the pages of her writing. Mary calls on us, her readers, to participate in that honesty. If you don’t want to be part of the play, go read something “safer.” This book is not safe. It is a deeply moving adventure in which you hold Mary’s hand and she holds yours but all the while she is leading you to what I described in an e-mail to her as, “a land that I entered when I read your book because I am quite sure that the honesty and vulnerability which I am displaying in this communication is not the culture of the land that I have inhabited until now.”

I wept with Mary, I laughed with her, and I cooked with her and all of these I will do again and again as her words come back to me over time.

I have never read a book quite like this. I made a friend through those artfully crafted and shaped words. Mary quotes ee cummings, a fitting mentor, as she moves us about the pages of her book in the particular rhythm of her life. I am presumptuous enough to say that I really do feel that this person, Mary L Tabor, is my friend, for I have been privileged enough to see her revealed in her writing, revealed in ways, which quite frankly women I have known for years have never revealed themselves to me.

But there is nothing off-putting about this revelation. I am not shocked or thinking, “Well, Mary dear, that perhaps is something we do not share outside the home.”

I feel privileged, honored and inspired to find a new honesty in my own writing, indeed in my own life.

As the sun came up and I had finished reading (Re)Making Love, I sat at my desk and wrote to Mary. I cannot share all the words of that email here because that would give away the ending of Mary’s book, heaven forbid, but it would not be an exaggeration to say I exposed my broken heart to the screen before me and taking Mary’s lead I held little back in the story I told my new friend.

It seemed the least I could do to thank her for (Re)Making Love.