a funeral playlist…??

a funeral playlist…??

Admittedly, mortality has been on my mind lately (see previous post). Still, when I saw this idea ~ a funeral playlist! ~ in a recent Oprah (of course!), I loved it.

The idea is that the songs we list should ‘represent the things we value.’ Or be ‘essentially you.’ Hmmm… Not sure what songs are really ‘me.’ And what that would even mean…? Although I know we did pick songs we associated with my mother when we did her funeral – old big band, jazz standards, a few crooners. A musical hit (Dites Moi, of course!), a Doris Day favourite… Because we four daughters are all over the place spiritually/religiously, hymns were in short supply. And to be fair, I don’t remember Mother as a big hymn fan anyway.

My own funeral playlist has only a few constants; the other 6-7 songs (you’re supposed to list 10) vary as my mood does. A couple of classical favourites would always be there – Bach’s Brandenburgs, particularly number 4. And Pachelbel’sCanon in D, of course. I’ve been playing an extended Canon playlist (29 riffs, so far)! for years, whenever I need soothing. And the Brandenburgs work much the same, although #4 is my favourite.

Another sure thing is über idiosyncratic (although the album it debuted on was named best NPR album of 2006), the Decembrists’ Crane Wife.Crane Wife 3is the one I love – the Japanese folk tale it comes from is so poignant: love gone greedy, the beautiful wounded crane ~she had no heart so hardened…

Then there are a couple I’m not sure I will ‘always’ love, although they’ve certainly been favourites for years: Death Cab for Cutie’s I will follow you into the dark; Playing for Change’s Stand by Me. I have several coversof Leonard Cohen’s Halleleujah, too, as well as the original. 

Here’s my question for you: what songs do you want to be remembered by? What says ‘you’ musically? And how do you feel about the whole idea of a funeral playlist? When you go to a funeral (and do you?), does the music matter to you? Since music is important to me – isn’t it to most of us? – I don’t want songs played that have no significance to me. But then again… It’s not like I can do much about it by then!

Share your favourites! I’d love to hear what you like!

the comfort of tea ~

the comfort of tea ~

This past year has been fraught with … perhaps peril isn’t the right word, but certainly rife w/angst. Tea has been a great comfort. Writing has not (ergo: no entries on the blog since February!).

My beloved was ill for more than a year – beginning February last year. It was spring of this year before we were out of the woods. I use we intentionally: it seemed as if I too was hurting from chemo, as if my own body was eating away at itself… Mortality had breakfast with every morning. Only a ‘good’ year in that he made it. I’m much lighter in spirit these days! 

Writing was nothing I wanted to undertake: too much reflection, too much energy. It was all I could do to get through the days. As a result, my happiness journal project – supposedly a year of lists – isn’t finished 162 weeks in, what with the move the year before, then settling in. My gratitude journal went 2 weeks at a time with no entries, some months. Factor in multiple illnesses, two active grandsons plus life in general: watching a well-loved cat fade into passing; juggling the happiness of bird-watching with the need to feed & clean feeders; swinging a toddler in his swing, in the midst of a gnat swarm (really!) Returning to Oklahoma for my baby sister’s TWO graduations: one her BA, one her MA. Welcoming family for the holidays. Life is funny that way, the poignant with the memorable.

I’ve tried to breathe through it all, often scanning my body for tension as I focus on breath in, breath out. I’ve even mentioned ‘grounding & centering’ to my elder grandson, both to prep him for when he’s a bit older & we can do it together, and to remind myself to practice. I’ve focused on big sky mind: clouds come, clouds go. Only the sky remains. Pain rises up, but it passes.

Through it all, there’s been tea. The warm comfort of a mug, the distraction of a tea tray laden with family china & a nosegay from the flourishing garden (you should see the roses!). Today it’s a large mug of white peach matcha, and a piece of rhubarb ginger scone from this weekend’s Saturday Farmers Market. 

I’ve come late to appreciating matcha – probably because I had no clue how to brew it! It turns out you can know a boatload about something, and NOT know something fairly important. Like…you brew matchaat 180°, NOT boiling (212°, fyi). And you only ‘brew’ for the time it takes to whisk the fine powder into the water thoroughly. I sometimes steep for 3 minutes, but no longer, ever, or the matcha becomes quite bitter (which I used to think was just how it tastes!).

You learn all the time, if you pay attention! And the one thing I’ve learned this past year is what my priorities are. Not always what I’ve assumed: writing isn’t as important as family, nor is it as comforting as tea. It’s not even above gardening! (Did I mention our roses 😏?)

I’ve also learned to forgive myself for guilt, for fatigue, for shrieking at people (truly!), for the failings (big & small) of normal human beings under pressure. It’s freeing, that, to treat ourselves with as much compassion as we do our loved ones. And it’s a basic tenet of most spiritual paths: the Golden Rule means very little if we can’t learn to love ourselves first. Tea makes that much easier!

tea and poetry ~

tea and poetry ~

Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things. ~  Okakura Kakuzō in his Book of Tea

It’s tea time — that golden hour of slant afternoon sun that warms tables & fills rooms with light. My elderly cat (18!) sprawls on the table runner, basking in the sun. It’s the time when water burbles happily in a kettle — glass, if you’re lucky, so you can see the bubbles! — and you find a mug, or a cup & saucer, and maybe a cookie. Or two…or three…

Today’s tea is brought to you by poetry, and Okakura Kakuzo, practically a poet of tea. See the above quote if you doubt. One of the lovely moments in life is to read poetry you love (or write drafts you probably don’t! — while you sip tea.

My favourite tea used to be a china black, a nice serviceableKeemun. It’s still the house tea, and the fav. But as my tea time moved later in the day (winter nights come early), I found myself drinking more herbal teas, fruit teas, and occasionally a small pot of matcha when I really need some energy.  My favourite is peach matcha. It allows me the ritual I seem to need, to calm down & refocus my dissipated attention. I indulged myself in a little  matcha scoop, as well as a small bamboo matcha whisk. To brew it, I use a small (2-cup) glass pot, when I want more than just one gai wan

Taiwan

There IS a fair amount of caffeine in matcha, but nothing like what there is in two (or more!) large cups of black tea. And theine is significantly smoother to process than caffeine.

Yesterday, however, I made masala chai, as I have often these cold winter days. The gentle spice is warming, and the addition of milk & sugar make it a bit more substantial than the jasmine I tend to drink in summer. Today it’s Hao Ya A, an extravagant holiday treat from my beloved. It’s a glamourous uptick on the usual Keemun, this one even more assertive. And while it sounds almost sacrilegious, I like it with milk & Demerara sugar, as I do most afternoon tea. Again, it just feels more comforting. And while milk & sugar may not seem poetic, a hot cup of afternoon tea — lightly sweetened & with milk to the colour winter grass — is the best kind of material poetry. You can feel the magic grow with each peaceful sip.

So heat up your kettle, if you have one. Or microwave a mug of water. Add a tea sachet (they’re much better quality tea than teabags, if you can afford the little bit extra!). Even an Oreo goes well, and you can have a lovely respite mid-afternoon, when work & all the rest of the world can recede to less importance. I promise: it’s the best moment of the day. And immeasurably poetic, isn’t it, Okakura Kakuzō-san?

Tea, & the beautiful foolishness of things ~

Tea, & the beautiful foolishness of things ~

In a world that daily seems to shatter along new fault lines, tea may seem a triviality of little consequence. But some days, I swear it saves me.

Today isn’t a particularly bad day. Or even a hard one. Still, it’s made better by the cup of masala chaiI just brewed, the tea a holiday gift from an old & dear friend, whom I see far too seldom. Now, however, as the chai’s warm & comforting fragrance wafts from the cup, it’s like she’s here, and we’re having a visit. There’s a kind of olfactory music, if that makes sense – a way the blend of cinnamon, cardamom, & ginger blend into a lullaby for grownups.

Tea is magic.

This was the Christmas of tea. I both gave it and received it. There were tea boxes for sons, daughter-in-law, and sister. Filled with what I either know they like, or enticing new options. For me, there were different chais, and a rosegold thermos to carry them in. There were stocking stuffers of sachets for busy office hours, and tins of loose tea when more ritual is desired. There were black & green & white & herbal, chai & matcha and more. We drank tea every day!

On a bad day, however, when I’m worried about the health of loved ones, or the lives of the next generation, or when I’m just missing old friends, I can brew a small pot of tea and it all seems to matter less. I can pour the water, and let the leaves steep, and soon a hot cuppa, as the English say, is ready to take me away.

It is, of course, a material joy. Although not beyond the reach of most. Decent tea is surprisingly affordable, considering it’s still (mostly) harvested by hand, and has to be shipped from faraway places w/ names that are as wonderfully exotic as good chai: Kagoshima, Nilgiri, Huangshan. Malawi, Paris, London & Ireland. There is history in each sip, if you care to learn it. And if not? The tea is enough on its own.

It is, as noted, a bit of a foolish thing, this worship at the cup. But there’s the health benefits, if you insist on being pragmatic. Not to mention the æsthetics of teaware through the ages. There are tea cosies, and matcha scoops, and the small washi-paper covered tins I filled w/ bits of leftover loose tea. There are spoon rests, and trays, and beautiful tray cloths. There is quiet comfort and beauty. (Don’t even ask how many teapots I own!) And the warmth that spreads like tangible comfort with each sip. That, it seems to me, isn’t foolish at all.

why I don’t want to live among anti-Semites OR racists…or the people who support them (part 3) ~

why I don’t want to live among anti-Semites OR racists…or the people who support them (part 3) ~

This most recent horrific tragedy — the mass murder of congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — hits very close to home: it’s the home synagogue of one of my cousins and her family. I learned about the terrible event because her daughter ‘checked in’ to say she was okay. The victims and the survivors were attending a bris, celebrating the birth of a baby boy in the congregation. Reading her simple text, I reeled from despair at this country’s love affair with hate.

In my not-too extended family, we have Jews, Muslims, pagans, Wiccans (not the same thing, fyi), Buddhists, spiritualists, agnostics, atheists, and Christians ranging from liberation theologians to hard-core, right-wing evangelicals. I fall in with the Buddhist of that belief web. Two of my dear cousins went to Indonesia with a deep commitment to liberation theology (Presbyterian). My uncle was a Catholic, also committed to working with ‘those less unfortunate.’ I spent a summer working for him at Upward Bound. His love for others was unfailing, tempered always with a nicely sick sense of humour.

We also have, however, as I noted, über right-wing evangelicals. Who honestly believe that the hatred fomented by our new administration isn’t that at all. They are, of course, white. And spout the usual privileged position of ‘I have black/ Jewish/ Indian/ etc. friends.’ Seriously? I’m betting they don’t find you as friendly as you think…

All this is by way of explaining why I find it so difficult to understand racism and hatred predicated upon difference. Almost everything about my childhood was different from my peers. I spent a period from about 6 to about 8 pretty poor. My father had retired from the military on 1/2 pay, probably about $400/ monthly back then. With 3 kids, that wasn’t much. Less than $1200 in today’s dollars, or about $14,000. I remember a LOT of beans, chili, & cornbread. We certainly didn’t feel rich. In fact, my old ladies (grandmothers & great-aunts) often fed us.

Then my father joined the civil service, & we went to ViệtNam. Where my white-blonde ponytail was such an anomaly that people in the market le grand marché would stop me and reach out to touch it, pulling it as if it might be fake. In the early time of police advisors,ViệtNam and its citizens were unfamiliar with little blonde white girls. Later, when my husband & I moved to the Middle East, small boys would throw rocks at me as I walked to yet another marché, this one in Algiers. In that city of troubled colonialism, prostitutes wore their hair like mine, blonde.

You can see that even if I hadn’t been exposed from an early age to the abyss separating my privileged life from those of people around me, even if I hadn’t been singled out (often unpleasantly) for my race & gender, even without my early grounding in a non-denominational Christianity that stressed the Beatitudes (not the10 Commandments, which Jesus himself says are superseded by HIS teachings, l as is ALL of the Old Testament), juxtaposed w/ a deeply Buddhist & animist sensibility of the respect due all living beings, I’d be hard-pressed to ignore my childhood roots.

equity equalityPlease note: to varying degrees, all four of us sisters (myself & my 3 sisters) are beyond liberal. Beyond progressive, some might say. We not only believe in ‘equality,’ we believe in ‘equity.’ We know that often to be ‘equal’ folks need a helping hand. And we’re OKAY with that. We aren’t threatened, nor do we feel diminished. Nor do we think it’s a handout, because we are aware of all the privileges that accrue even to the children of GED earners like us. Just by virtue of our race, among other things.

So I have divorced FB, for the duration. Maybe long-term, who knows? To see people I grew up with standing up for an administration that calls Nazis ‘nice people,’ an administration that has fomented hate so that hate crimes have risen for the past 2+ years… Despair, again.

At first, confronted by this unbelievable fact — that my own family supports caging children, supports a wall, supports the racial profiling of victims, and are apologists for racially targeted police killings, I was dumbfounded. So I attempted — good researcher & scholar that I am — to offer evidence & support: studies, refutations of the many lies coming out of the establishment. No use. Whatever multiple sources I provided were dismissed as ‘biased.’ Only Fox News & Breitbart (Breitbartt!!!), or rabid evangelical websites qualify as ‘reliable.’ In other words? No interest in real conversation, just conversion…

Despair again.despair

So, no. I could never live with racists or anti-Semites or the folks who support them. I can’t even communicate w/ them. And here’s the truth — I have no answer to this. I’ve mostly cut myself off from folks who support this administration. I can’t handle it. I wish I could say I’m tolerant of other’s beliefs, but no, NOT when said beliefs result in children being caged. And when we become apologists for getting a FIVE-YEAR-OLD to sign away her rights. Nor when we begin to talk about ‘executive orders’ to change Constitutional rights. I’m not okay. And unlike two of my sisters who manage to disregard these differences, I can’t.

Any suggestions?