Monday, April 18, 2022

A Song for Youth & Age--Part 2


My previous posting detailed a few of my post-convent years. Accompanying that posting was a video of Judy Collins singing the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” for which Pete Seeger used eight biblical verses. Those verses have woven themselves into the fabric of my life.

Today, I’m returning to one line: “a time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing.” I want to share how that line impacted my life in 1967 and on my recent birthday. 


When I first heard Seeger sing those words, I’d just been released from the religious vows I’d taken in 1963. I’d taken them in good faith, trusting that in living them, I would more deeply abide in the community of Oneness. 


By November 1966, I was mentally ill, hallucinating, yet holding myself together so that I wouldn’t end up in an insane asylum. In a stupor, I walked away from my home of nearly nine years. I’d embraced that home, that life, those vows. Now it was time to cease from embracing them. But, oh, the feeling of failure, the disdain I felt for myself.


In that time of internal turmoil, Seeger’s song eased my mind. Trees embraced leaves in Spring; in Autumn, they let go of those leaves. Nature embraced; then refrained from embracing. 


Nature let go. Left the past behind.


“Turn. Turn. Turn.”


I, too, was part of nature. Given that, I began to think about the vows taken in marriage. For thirty years, I’d accepted the Roman Catholic’s teaching on divorce. If there was a season in which I could let go of my vows, then why not those who were married? Didn’t all people change with time? Weren’t they drawn inexorably to a fulfillment that they hadn’t even recognized at one time?


And that, of course, was the path to looking at all that I’d accepted as irrevocable. To look. To examine. To question. To let go of the rigidity of my certainity and to open myself to possibilities and alternatives. To see flip sides. To become, in a real way, a critical thinker willing to examine all my beliefs about everything and discover what, if anything, was immutable. 


That one verse on embracing led to the overturning of much I’d accepted as unalterable and helped me begin to let go of the judgmental attitude that there is only one way to be, to think, to act—and it’s my way! 


Flash forward to my recent birthday: A friend treated me to lunch. As we ate, we talked about aging. She expressed regret because she didn’t get more done each day. I found myself saying, “You know for everything there is a season. During this past winter, you made quilts for your daughter . . .”


“I haven’t quilted since Christmas,” she countered.


“Maybe,” I offered, “you’re in a new season, one of taking care of yourself. You’ve set a walking goal, and you’re accomplishing it!” 


Once home, I considered my own new season. As I’ve posted before, for decades, I believed I had to accomplish something every day to be worthwhile. While encouraging others to be gracious to themselves, I’ve demanded results of myself. What a masochist!


Ah, there it is: For decades, I’ve talked the talk; now has come the season to walk the walk . . . of letting go of always feeling that I am not enough. For me, now is a season of contentment in simply being; a season of delight in holding dear who I grew up to be.


At 10:30 PM on my birthday, content with where and who I am, I lay on my bed, put in my eyes the final drops of the day, and said to my mini-google, “Please play some music for me.” 


And guess what? 


The song Google chose, one I hadn’t heard in years, was Pete Seeger singing, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” 


Mystery and peace.

(PS: It's another mystery to me why white appears behind so many lines!)

Monday, April 4, 2022

A Song for Youth & Age (Part 1)

Fifty-six years ago, having left the convent just three months short of my thirty-first birthday, one of the songs I first heard was “Turn, Turn, Turn.” (Its title was also “For Everything There Is a Season.”) 

           For this song, the beloved folk singer Pete Seeger had composed music to accompany the first eight verses of Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The only lyrics he’d added were the refrain (turn, turn, turn) and the last verse on peace being possible even then . . . even now. 

During the escalation of the Vietnam War, I mostly listened to folk music. Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” became anti-war songs. Those two anthems radicalized me politically.

 Two other insightful songs, “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and “All I Know” by Garfunkel, spoke to the recesses of my heart that I’d bolted and locked. The songs seemed to be the soundtrack for my life—emotionally, spiritually, politically. They charted my journey from where I’d been, to where I was then, to where I might be headed. 

At the time, three companions—three psychotic hallucinations whom I could both see and hear—accompanied me everywhere. Daily, the four of us imprisoned one another: one cheered me on, one cautioned me, one excoriated me. And I? I said nothing. I played a role that hid me from what I expected would be the loathing of others.

The two anti-war songs, plus the example of two friends whom I’d met in Dayton, Ohio, led me to protest the Vietnam War, which led to shotguns being aimed at me and guard dogs sicked on me. It also led to my meeting men who’d come back from the war, their hopes, dreams, and minds bruised and battered irrevocably by the war and by the reception they’d received on campus. 

In August 1971, after completing my studies for a graduate degree, I returned to Dayton only to learn—from a kind storeowner from whom I’d sought employment—that the FBI had a file on me and was encouraging those to whom I applied for work to disregard me. According to the bureau, I’d become both traitorous and unemployable. Fortunately, I was able to get a job in a factory beyond the city boundaries and later to teach at a drop-out center for Black students. 

In the late 1960s, while teaching at an inner-city school in Dayton, I’d taught students the history of slavery; taken them into the downtown area where many of them had never been; and written numerous letters to federal, state, and city government leaders about Civil Rights, racism, and segregation. I’d also written to department store owners who had no black mannequins in their window displays. I have no idea if that info was also in the file. And, if so, what it implied to the FBI.

I was not a true social activist for I was never arrested or jailed. I was in some season of my life that did not include imprisonment but did include gathering with others to right wrongs. 

The songs of the 1960s and early 1970s accompanied me from Minnesota to Ohio to New Hampshire to Missouri and back to Minnesota. They inspired me, helped me discover and name my loneliness and fears, and brought me ever closer to revealing to someone the three hallucinations who hounded me. 

As my life changed in those turbulent times that ultimately, for me, became years of settling down, finding a career, and discovering my passion for writing, Seeger’s song especially continued to speak to me: “For everything there is a season.” I found new meanings in it as my experiences evolved. 

That’s what his song did then when I was young in thought and hope. In my next posting, I hope to share with you what happened on my recent birthday that connects Seeger’s song with my aging.