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Photo by Shawn McCready

We’re nearing the end of a nine-month-long Audubon class, learning about all the birds that frequent Whidbey Island – and there are a LOT! Around two-hundred and fifty kinds, give or take.

Our instructors are delighted when we can tell a Song Sparrow from a Fox Sparrow.

But what delights me is to learn that the Woodpecker in my neighborhood has a very long tongue that retracts to coil around its brain for shock absorption when it’s pounding on that tree down the road!

I’m not terribly disappointed that I haven’t learned to distinguish one duck from another, but I love knowing that one of them – the Cinnamon Teal – constructs a tunnel to its nest to foil predators.

A Surf Scoter could grab me by the toe, and I still wouldn’t know what to call it (except perhaps something unkind in the moment), but the fact that it can dive down thirty feet to catch its dinner has me calling it “amazing.”

I don’t judge myself too harshly for still not knowing which Hawk is which. But I’ll probably never forget that underneath the elegant long feathers of the Great Blue Heron is a fluffy stuff called “powder down,” and the powder it produces is what the Heron uses to keep those beautiful blue-gray feathers preened.

There are some great new ornithology words I’ve learned in class, or old words that now have new meanings: I knew that a group of Crows is a “murder.” But I hadn’t known that a group of Coots is a “commotion.” Even better, a group of Loons is called an “asylum.” “Crepuscular” means active at dawn and dusk; “pelagic” means spending most of life on the open sea.

I’ve loved learning that Crows can fly up from the ground, but Ravens have to hop to get airborne; a Hummingbird cannot even walk.  A Barn Swallow’s nest is built of more than a thousand bird-mouthfuls of mud; an Osprey nest, made of sticks and small branches, can weigh four hundred pounds or more; a Hummingbird uses expandable spider web threads to stitch together its tiny nest.

Birds are descended from dinosaurs; scientists don’t know if they learned to fly by jumping out of trees, or by leaping up from the ground. And there are educated guesses, but nobody really knows for sure why a Cormorant stands still with wings spread out for long, long periods of time.

Tree Swallows like to play with white feathers in the air, and will keep at it for so long that the game will exhaust the human who is throwing feathers for them to fetch. The “crop milk” fed to a baby Pigeon by its parents contains more nutrients than does cow or human milk. A Plover can fly over 100 miles per hour. Owls have asymmetrical ears in order to hear better. I am amazed and delighted by all of these facts.

One classmate’s Life List of identified North American birds is already nearing 400. She’s a real “birder.” I’m happy for her, and for those who build their vacations around good birding sites where they can add to their Life Lists. I don’t think I’ll ever qualify as a “real birder.”

But I can promise you that, whether or not I can identify them correctly, I’ll never stop being fascinated by the winged ones with whom we share our lives!

 

 

Expectant women wail, “I just want this baby to be BORN! I want this pregnancy to be over with!”

 

Authors whinge about the “labor pains of birthing” their books.

 

It’s an apt analogy, I think.

 

My book, Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People, has had a very long gestation period. Longer than that of a giraffe (15 months) or a whale (18 months), longer than that of an elephant (21.3 months). It has had several iterations, many titles, many outlines and tables of contents, and rejections from publishers who wisely recognized the work as not yet ready to be birthed.

 

Through all these months/years, the work and discomfort and angst have given the book itself time to develop into what it was meant to be all along.

 

The true voice of the book finally caught my ear about four years ago. Perhaps it had been speaking to me for longer than that, but I was certain I knew better than it did, and was not ready yet to relinquish my self-cleverness, wouldn’t concede that some difficult things DID need to be written and other cherished things DID need to be deleted.

 

I can remember the day on which I heard the book speak to me, in an internal dialect that I somehow finally understood. I had been challenged by a copyeditor who said to me, “I don’t believe your response to this incident. SHOW me how it’s possible to feel the way you SAY you felt.”

 

I hated her in the moment. But I was also paying her for her professional perceptions, so I went back to the vignette that I had been certain was “finished, polished, done and dusted.” I sat grudgingly with it, wondering what in hell else I could possibly do to what I had already spent months perfecting.

 

That’s when I heard the book speak to me, saying, “Go to your belly. Remember there. Listen there. Bring THOSE words to the page.”

 

And that’s when the embryo of my intended book first quickened within me.

 

Fast forward through months of listening to the voice of the book, of letting go to the wisdom of its development, of finding a publisher and entering into yet another new kind of dialogue. Hold down the fast-forward button to a couple of weeks ago when my publisher and I finally agreed on the title, the subtitle, the cover image and the cover design (a process that in itself took about three months). Then into my inbox came the literary equivalent of a sonogram of my yet-to-be-born book.

 

Like any proud almost parent author, I’m carrying the image around in my pocket, showing it to everyone I meet, and I wanted to share it with you as well.

 

Take a look at my beautiful in utero baby!  She’s due to be born in October of 2015.  Trust me, I’ll be sending out birth announcements.

MEETING IN THE MARGINS8

 

 

 

 

 


In January I gave myself a wondrous gift: a week away to do nothing but write poetry. “Nothing but write” means, to me, no TV, no phone, no clock, no schedule. Just me, simple food, tea, some sacramental chocolate, and whichever Muse shows up.

 


What I hadn’t anticipated about my week away was that, in the middle of the first draft of my first poem, my computer would freeze up and die – wouldn’t let me reboot or even shut it down.

 

I took this to be a direct challenge from the Muse, about how committed I was to my writing. I rose to her challenge by hauling in tablets of paper, a handful of pens, and my Roget’s Thesaurus. I was going to spend this writing week doing things the old-fashioned way.

 

I had forgotten how much I love a real Roget’s Thesaurus. I’d gotten used to relying on the thesaurus built into my Mac, or the one on Thesaurus.com. But both of those are really just synonym collections, not the real thesaurus deal. And for someone who loves words, the Roget’s Thesaurus has no substitute.

 

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One scans a list of synonyms, but one dives into the pages of Roget’s. For instance: I had placed the word “interesting” in brackets into a poem to indicate that it was just a placeholder for a better word that I’d find later.

 

(“Interesting” is a lazy word. If someone asks me how last night’s disastrous meeting went, and I don’t want to lie, nor do I want to give them the blow-by-blow, I answer, “It was interesting.” “Interesting” hides more than it reveals.)

 

So I looked up “interesting” at the back section of the thesaurus, and found the number 617.5 beside it. (That refers not to a page number, but to a place in the main part of the book.) At section 617.5 Allurement I found a whole collection of substitute words, clustered in gradations of meaning. One of those words was “delightful” along with the recommendation that I search further at 829.8 Pleasureableness.

 

When I got to 829.8, I noticed that 830 Painfulness followed, then 831 Content and then Discontent, Regret, Relief, Aggravation, Cheerfulness, Sadness, each with their own full baskets of synonyms. Before 829.8 Pleasureableness there were 828 Pain and 827 Pleasure, and Excitability and other nuances.

 

Now what was it that I was looking for when I started?  Uh-oh! I’d forgotten one of the cardinal rules of using a thesaurus: keep track of the sequence. Like Hansel dropping breadcrumbs on the path to the witch’s house, you must keep track of where you’ve been because you’re not necessarily sure of where you’re going. This keeping track of the path is something my computer doesn’t do for me, but with pen and paper it’s easy to make marginal notes – so long as I remember to do it!

 

There is nothing quite so satisfying as finding exactly the right word for a poem – one with the precise meaning, one with the right number of syllables, one beginning with the sound needed to complete a string of alliteration. That perfect word may have arrived from a totally unexpected corner of Wordland, but suddenly there it is, and the poet places it with a smug “thunk” just where it belongs.

 

I came home from my poetry week with abundance from the Muse: 23 drafts of new poems, waiting to be transcribed into digital form. My computer tech has repaired my laptop, and all is well in my little world of technology.

 

But rather than returning my analog Roget’s Thesaurus to the bookshelf, I’ve decided to keep it close at hand, to inspire, to inform and, sometimes, simply to lure me away to play for a while in the Land of Words.

ON CHRISTMAS DAY I scanned an email entitled “Repaying a Homeless Man’s Kindness,” reprinted from Huffington Post and sent by Daily Good: News That Inspires (http://www.dailygood.org/).

 

This is a topic dear to my heart: the gifts offered by society’s invisible people. At first I simply nodded an acknowledgement to my computer screen and went on to open other emails. Yet, rather than having made my heart smile, as was intended, this article instead made my heart feel heavy. I didn’t have time to think about it that night, and I deleted the article.

 

But then a few days later a friend on the other side of the country sent me the same article, asking, “What do you think about this?” And I reread the story thoroughly:

 

A young college woman named Dominique had just parted from her friends after a student night out, when she realized her cellphone was dead. She had lost her bank card and had no money for a taxi home. A homeless man, Robbie, approached her, learned of her dilemma, and offered her all the money he had: $4.60. In the end, she found another way home. But she couldn’t forget Robbie and his kindness.

 

This could have been, should have been, a simple story about a homeless man’s generosity to a scared and grateful young woman.

 

But then it became a complicated story. It grew out of proportion, and despite good intentions it grew into gestures that, I believe, were far from the meaning and the heart(s) of the matter.

 

Dominique searched for and eventually found Robbie again. That gesture would have been enough to show her gratitude, to demonstrate their mutual human kindness. If she returned regularly, sat and talked with him, shared personal stories, established a friendship with him – if he wanted it – that would have been a lovely bonus.

 

But then she enlisted others in a monetary “campaign,” asking students on campus to donate $4.60 apiece to “help change Robbie’s life.” That was a great marketing idea, but an unfortunate one. It’s a gesture that carries the message that Robbie is not enough as he is, and that others know how to “fix” what is lacking in him. It negated his generosity.

 

Intentionally “paying it forward” to others, in gratitude for Robbie, in honor of Robbie’s intention, would have been an appropriate gesture, but not “paying it back” in amounts that tipped the scales so far that Robbie could never hope to reciprocate, would forever feel indebted.

 

Then Dominique spent a night on the streets, to “understand the difficulties” of homeless people. I believe this gesture, made by one who can as easily leave the margins as enter them, is an insult to homeless people who do not have that luxury.

 

And then the once-simple story became even more complicated.

 

With more than $50,000 raised from the financial campaign, Dominique plans to secure a home for Robbie. But does he want that? Did he ever ask for anything more than the dignity of helping a lost, scared young woman?

 

Did contributors to this campaign believe that handing over $4.60 was enough to absolve them of any further responsibility for connecting with marginalized people? Or, on the other hand, did story of this campaign subtly say to readers that no simple gesture, no small human exchange can possibly be enough? If it can’t be a BIG gesture, will they choose not do anything at all?

 

Robbie’s offer was made with his heart, and all the money he had. When Dominique told this simple story it ultimately moved 4800 people to think for moment about something we seldom acknowledge: the possibility that a person who has “nothing” nevertheless has “enough” to offer to another.

 

It’s a pity that Dominique didn’t have enough faith in Robbie’s generosity. It’s a shame she didn’t believe that her own gratitude was enough. It’s too bad she couldn’t trust that an invisible momentum of grace was already making itself felt, was changing the world in minute ways, without any marketing campaign on its behalf.

 

 




1538953234_59b4799eab_m_frankensteinA dinner guest the other night (this photo is not she!) said that she wished she had more friends. Our lively group around the table grabbed that word, and we were off, launched into yet another interesting conversation for the evening.

 

My contribution to our talk was that “friend” has a particular meaning for me; I consider very few people to be my friends. Someone said, “I hope you consider me to be one of your friends.” There was a too-long moment of hesitation, after which I replied, “Well, actually . . . no.  I have only three, or maybe four people that I call ‘friend.’”

 

And now we got into the heart of the matter – how does each of us – even Dr. Frankenstein’s monster –  define “friend”?

 

I have many acquaintances, and it’s a pity that word seems and sounds so awkward, or it would solve my dilemma. But “friend” is easier to use. So much easier, in fact, that all you have to do is hit a button on Facebook in order to become a friend. Because of social media, “friend” has even become a verb in the past ten years, and “friend” as a noun has become seriously devalued when one can have hundreds, even thousands of “friends” online. Another media diminishment of the word “friend” is in contrast with “lover,” usually paired in a script or manuscript with the word “just,” as in “can’t we be just friends” or “I want to be more than just your friend.”

 

I guess I need to accept that changes in the word “friend” are part of the ongoing evolution of American English words. And in that spirit I have now chosen a new word for the special category that my “three, or perhaps four” friends comprise. Philosopher/poet John O’Donohue chose anam cara, meaning soul friend, and that sounds right. (Some online discussions among Celts declare that anamcharae is the plural, should one be blessed with more than one.) That leaves me free to use “friend” much more liberally.

 

The ones who are my anamcharae seem to have appeared in my life and resonated in a soul-deep way that has increased over time rather than fading away again.

 

But I’m impatient, and I can’t expect any one person (even, and perhaps especially, a life-partner or a soul friend) to expand to meet all my needs. So the variety of gaps in my life that yearn for the energy of another person must be filled by a variety of people: my friends. I need a community of friends, and that doesn’t just happen – I have to go about creating it deliberately.

 

First I need to name what my yearnings are: do I need more humor in my life? Do I need a sympathetic ear? Do I want someone to embolden me into adventure, or into traveling when I might not go solo? Or someone with whom to share the pleasure of a hobby or movie-going/popcorn-eating or writing poetry or tasting wine or attending the ballet? Once I know what I want, then I can ask specific people to fill those gaps and bring me closer to living a well-rounded and satisfying life.

 

I’ve made a list of whom I need in my community of friends. Understanding that each person may fit into more than one category, I need:

 

Confidants – non-judgmental, non-advice-giving listeners who can hold me, either in person or from a distance whenever I call on them – this might be a wearying position, so I try to have at least three confidants.

Intellect-Stretchers – people who think differently from me, who are curious about things I never thought to wonder about, who can bring me up short in my assumptions about “how things work.” I want at least two of these, each quite different from the other.

Playmates – these are friends who are always ready to have fun, always aware of opportunities for play: going to movies or concerts, packing spontaneous picnics, cooking from an exotic new cookbook, taking a day trip, staying at a funky B&B, trying out a new skill that neither of us has ever done before.

Prayer Partners – I always have at least one reliable person who, when they say, “I’ll be praying for you,” will actually DO it. This person is preferably connected to a prayer chain, to get more bang for their prayer buck.

Chicken-Soup People – these are the ones who, when they find out I have a cold, or am just feeling morose, will show up at my door with whatever they know feels like “love” to me: chicken soup, or chocolate, a CD of gypsy jazz, a twisty new murder mystery, a bowl of mac and cheese, or a bottle of wine. It’s good to have two of these friends.

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Sometimes it’s hard to ask for this help, but most of my friends, and my anamcharae too, are delighted when I specifically ask them to fill one of these special roles in my life, when I ask them to be aware of connecting with me in these ways that meet my needs. In your own life, most likely you’ll find other, different categories that you yearn to have filled by friends. That’s good. It means you’re thinking about what you really need.

 

 

In the coming year, may you listen to your needs.

 

May you become convinced that you are worthy of having them met.

 

And may you have the courage to create a community of friends whom you can ask for what you need.

 

“Friend, good!”

 


 

 

In the October 24, 2014 issue of The Week magazine, on facing pages, two brief articles stare across the fold and staples to challenge each other.

One describes a 29-year-old woman in Oregon, Brittany, recently married, full of life and happiness and love . . . and lethal cancer of the brain.

The other describes a man, Clayton, a convicted murderer, executed by lethal injection for his crimes in Oklahoma.

Brittany faced inevitable, intractable pain.

Clayton died in writhing, protracted pain.

Some say Clayton should not have died that way, and some say that Brittany should not have been allowed to permanently end her suffering.

The state of Oklahoma has spoken publicly in remorse for causing Clayton’s pain.

Brittany spoke publicly on behalf of the rights of others facing terminal, unbearable pain.

Oklahoma says it currently lacks adequate drugs and sufficiently trained medical personnel to administer impending scheduled executions.

Through the Death with Dignity Act, Brittany legally secured from a pharmacy the drugs she administered orally to herself to end her life.

Clayton’s agony inspired renovation of the State Penitentiary execution chamber.

Brittany’s choice inspired moral outrage.

How can these two responses arise from the same society?

If we are required to die – whether by decree of the Court, or by the vagaries of disease, or by our common mortality and the passage of time – how can we, in good conscience, not allow that transition to happen in a kind way, a palliative way?

Neither Brittany nor Clayton wanted to die. The state said he must. Many in our society said she shouldn’t.

Neither Brittany nor Clayton wanted to suffer. Oklahoma is embarrassed that it caused pain when it killed Clayton. Oregon assisted in alleviating Brittany’s suffering when cancer was killing her.

I wonder: what do these two stories want us to hear, to discuss, and to learn as they contemplate each other from pages 4 and 5 of the same magazine?

 

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clock photo

 

This morning I thought about one special hour of the year, and how much I look forward to it.

 

It always happens in autumn – a bonus, because that’s my favorite season of the year. This single hour has had a strange history, morphing around the calendar and around the globe. It is an artificial, “made-up” hour, and over the centuries it has shrunk to half its size or grown to twice itself, even vanished altogether depending on the prevailing political winds.

 

Currently this magical hour pops into existence on the first Sunday of November and squeezes back through a tiny time warp on the second Sunday of the next March.

 

I prepare for the coming of my favorite hour like a grade school child hanging up a stocking by the fireplace, knowing that “Santa” isn’t real but wanting to participate in the magic anyway. So just before I go to bed on the Saturday eve, I go around the house, in an anticipatory ritual of setting every clock back an hour, then colluding in my own pretence by “forgetting” that I have done so.

 

The next morning, when my body wakes at its usual time, I unshutter one eye to squint at the clock and – this is what makes it my favorite hour! – I’m joyously surprised by the gift of an extra sixty minutes before I need to rise. Like a steeping teapot I snuggle back into the cozy of my warm sheets, happily extracting one more hour of delicious flavors from the night’s dreaming.

 

Technically, that fabricated hour will be available again the next morning and the next, and all the coming mornings until mid-March. But those hours are never quite the same as this best one, on the first morning when we leave behind Daylight Savings Time.

For thirty years my attention has been focused on people who are marginalized in our culture. People who are physically, mentally, or addictively ill; people who have no home; people who are isolated in their homes; people who are dying.

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I’m not a social activist, and I don’t know how to fix our social problems. I don’t know how to make our margins disappear. I don’t know what can be done for those huge numbers of marginalized people – EXCEPT for what I have done for thirty years: BE with them.

“Just-be-with” is a hard sell in our society. We prefer Nike’s “Just Do It.” We’d far rather DO something, anything, than feel helpless in the presence of another’s dysfunction, discomfort, or pain.

But scientific research is making a new case for being-with.

It also makes the case for the corollary  that an astute homeless woman said to me in a downtown San Francisco park: “It’s reciprocal, isn’t it.” Whatever positive emotions and human connection she had experienced as we were together, were returned to me through her eyes, and through her calloused hand touching my arm.

Psychologist Barbara Frederickson (interviewed by Angela Winter in the July 2014 issue of The Sun) says, “When we are really attuned to another person, we take part in this almost imperceptible dance. . . . this can bring a powerful sense of oneness,” what Frederickson has coined as “positivity resonance.” Like the vibrating of cello strings that are attuned to and amplify each other, this resonance is greater than its individual parts.

Frederickson’s research shows that whether we are sharing an intimate conversation with a friend or making brief eye contact and sharing a smile with a stranger, positivity resonance can improve the health of both people.

But the tricky part is, this sharing has to be done in person. Or at the very least in real time. Texting doesn’t create positivity resonance, but phone conversations do. Just being around a group of others isn’t enough, but connecting with someone in that group is. Most effective of all is making eye contact, and briefly and appropriately touching. In the few seconds at a stoplight, when you roll down the car window and give a dollar to a street beggar and grasp his hand briefly as the dollar is exchanged, a positivity resonance is created between you. Or, at that same stoplight, if you turn to the driver of the car next to you and offer a smile that is returned, the resonance happens.

So what can we do about the problems of our social margins?

By definition, social margins are where people are divided off from the rest of society, deprived of affirmation, kindness, unconditional being-with. But what if once a month each of us went to a hospital, or a hospice, or a homeless shelter, or any of the multitude of places where marginalized people are gathered at the edges of our society (or even to the house next door where that old woman lives alone)?

What if we went with empty hands, intending to give nothing but attention and a gentle touch, with no plan except to be-with; to offer – and allow – a “positivity resonance” to happen?

What if we believed – or at least hoped – that this is enough, and that by this simple act we, and those with whom we connect, will have helped to erase a few inches of a margin that divides us from each other?

Positivity resonance.

Being-with.

For decades I have known, and the homeless woman in the park knew, and now, it seems, science is learning: BEING-WITH IS HEALING.

When we feel empty, being-with can replenish us.

When we feel as if we have nothing, being-with is the gift we can give.

When we feel helpless, being-with is enough.

Frederickson, a scientist, is even bold enough to name this being-with, this positivity resonance, “love.”

 

Last night I thumbed through the August 2014 issue of Scientific American. I stopped at an article entitled “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time” (by Afshordi, Mann and Pourhasan), which postulates a cosmic black hole that preceded the Big Bang.

 

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For all that I comprehended, the article could have been written in early Cyrillic instead of English. Nevertheless, I was mesmerized by the exotic words and phrases that I didn’t understand.

 

There were these:

 

“event horizon”

 

“a rich theory of holography”

 

“cosmic censorship”

 

“the observed amplitude and shape of primordial matter fluctuations”

 

“graceful exit problem”

 

“the sudden, violent emergence of all space, time and matter from an infinitely dense point called a singularity”

 

And there were these sentences that baffled me:

 

“Physicists quip that ‘a black hole has no hair’ – no distinguishing features beyond the basics of mass, angular momentum and electrical charge.”

 

“…our entire universe came into being during a stellar implosion in this suprauniverse, an implosion that created a three-dimensional shell around a four-dimensional black hole.”

 

And there were longer, denser full-bore paragraphs that made my head spin.

 

But then the poet in me had an idea. With my apologies to the academic authors if they are offended, I invite you to look one such paragraph as if it were a POEM:

 

We now know

that the density of ordinary

matter

is only 5 percent

of the universe’s total

energy density.

Another

25 percent comes

in the form of

dark matter,

an unknown form

of matter whose existence

is inferred

from its gravitational

attraction.

And 70 percent of the universe

is made of dark energy,

the mysterious stuff

that is causing

the expansion

rate of our universe

to speed up

(instead of

slowing down,

as originally expected

from gravitational

attraction.)

Structured like that it’s fascinating and lovely, and, like a John Berryman poem, it makes me feel as if I’m teetering on the verge of understanding whatever it means.

 

As a wordsmith, I treasure words. I find pleasure in the arrangements of words that convey an idea or a story (or a theorem) to others.

 

However much I’d like to understand that article in Scientific American, there is simply not enough time (or motivation) for me to learn all I’d need to know in order for that to happen.

 

Nevertheless, I can delight in the beauty and the mystery of the words. I am content that SOMEONE understands them. Someone thrums and thrills with that understanding, and that fills me with awe and gratitude.

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A writer who is a poet tends to see things as metaphor.  I am a writer/poet, and sometimes I drive myself crazy noticing a thing and knowing there is a delicious but elusive metaphor there, just waiting to be penned.

 

Last week I travelled from my home island to the mainland, to visit a friend in the hospital. A newly-launched 144-car ferry is in service now – the Tokitae (“TOH-kit-TAY”), a Salish greeting meaning “nice day, pretty colors.” This is a state-of-the-art motor vessel, 360 feet of shiny paint, new signage, up-to-the-minute radar and bristles of communications antennae, with diesel engines deep inside that purr so quietly you don’t know you’ve cast off until you notice the dock receding in your rearview mirror.

When the Tokitae reached the mainland and nosed into its berth, I watched two crewmen reach out for the mooring lines and loop them around the huge anvil-shaped cleats on the vessel. “Isn’t that interesting,” I thought. “Everything totally new, except for the ropes.” What was securing the vessel to the berth was old-fashioned weathered hemp rope, slightly frayed in places from hard work.

I stared at the rope and its many layers: natural hemp strands wound into cord, cords twined together into thumb-sized ropes, then double strands of that rope braided into a round, unbreakable cable as thick as my wrist. I could feel one of those annoying metaphors nudging at my mind. Ah well, let it go – it was time to negotiate the ramp off the ferry, and head for the hospital.

My friend was in the Intensive Care Unit, a state-of-the-art unit in a brand-new 13-story hospital. We were surrounded by technology, from the machines monitoring Mark and keeping him pain-free, to the cellphone that his wife, Effie, was reluctantly learning to navigate, and the WiFi computers in the family room that kept the two of them connected to email from well-wishers.

Effie is one of my dearest friends. We speak the same language of the heart. Her eyes glistened with tears of gratitude as she said, “You know, the phone calls and the emails are nice, but what really amazes me is how I can FEEL my connection to my friends. It’s a spiritual connection, but almost physical, like an energy network of support. THAT’S what’s keeping me going. And Mark feels it too. Each strand of love weaving into a connection that’s holding us.”

And THERE was my metaphor: the mooring rope of sacred love connecting two people to the interwoven compassion of many others, strong enough to hold them tenderly in difficult moments from which they’d rather drift away.

On a newly-minted Olympic class ferry, an ancient method still secures us to the shore of a home island.

Amid all the newest and shiniest technology in a hospital ICU, it is still a most ancient skill that binds us to each other.