Altar on Sunday, December 20th~A Winter Solstice Ceremony


            I’m in, I’m on, I’m tucked in right here under the luggage wrack. I barely made it because, you know, I’m coming in from the flight called 2020. You too? Bumpy doesn’t cover it. But we’re here now. We’re settling in to the Love Train.

            LOVE. It’s an over-sued word, isn’t it? ‘Love’ can mean so many different things. Just yesterday after reading my very thoughtful “course and instructor evaluations” I said to Michael, ‘I love my students.’ Would I tell them that? No! That would be weird. I ‘love’ my three-dollar plaid shawl I found at Goodwill that reminds me of my Scottish heritage. Do I tell it I love it? No! That also would be weird and maybe questionable. And yet we take the word and force it into all kinds of scenarios, expecting it to do our emotional and psychological heavy-lifting. What creates this dependency, this compulsion to rely so much on the word ‘love’? And why is it off limits to my students or a piece of cloth? In most instances in our modern world, we use the word ‘love’ in its romantic sense. Or, we use it to create dramatic emphasis, as in: ‘I love that new Adelle song’ or ‘I love Clint’s salsa’ ( I do!). We do a lot of ‘loving’ in our culture but I’m wondering if by over-extending its meaning, we aren’t diluting its essence? We need to first receive love in order to give it, and in order to recognize it later on. When we are babies, ‘love’ is actually attention, and care.

            But you don’t say, “I attention you” to your beloved, your children, or even your pooch. And I won’t come out and say ‘I love you, shawl from Goodwill’ although that’s how I feel! I explore these thoughts today, on this Day-After-Christmas morning, because to me, it is so much more important to cultivate the ways in which love is delivered and distributed in our world. Let’s wander off-field for a minute and imagine what recovering from our cultural expectations and semantic ideas of modern, often mass-marketed notions of love would look like:
            Here’s a story that’s perfect for sharing at this Yule time. I was in the Saco post office about 3 weeks ago. I had only one package to mail to North Carolina, for my mom. I’d gotten up early so as to avoid waiting in line as well as reducing my chances of being exposed to all of those asymptomatic Covid-carriers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who had this idea! I found a primo parking spot right on Main Street but when I opened the post office door, there were at least 7 people already waiting. Eight-thirty—opening time—came and went and still we stood there. Several more people came in to the post office; some huffed and left, not willing to wait. Finally, a bedraggled postal employee appeared and told us that the computer wasn’t properly shut down the night before and he was trying to track down the employee for her ‘passcode.’ We were unamused and went back to sighing and staring at our phones.

            The line eventually started to move. However, transactions were not swift! We all groaned as we watched the first customer insert and removed her debit card several times before the transaction was complete. This seemed to happen to each and every person thereafter! A normally 3-4 minute exchange was taking around 8 minutes (which feels like an age in the post office).  The mash-up of ridiculousness, holiday stress and Covid-fatigue fell over us still waiting our turns; snarky yet entertaining conversations started to spring up and I could feel the “citizen pack” forming.

            The young lady in front of me finally walked up to the counter. She too punched and punched the debit machine, to no avail. Her forced cheerfulness was palpable towards the postal employee, who no doubt was just trying his best. We crinkled our collective brows as we watched them laugh and smile, wondering when, when when! things might move along.

            And then, she dug around in her purse, produced her wallet and pulled out several dollar bills.

            Gulp. I didn’t have any cash. I turned to the woman behind me, who at this point in the morning felt like someone I could trust with my life. “Looks like cash only. I can’t believe this,” I said.

            She stared through the glass door over my shoulder. “Oh, no. Well, that’s okay. I just went to the bank.”

            I looked down at my package to my mom, its expert wrapping a skill I’d learned from her. “I don’t carry cash. I don’t have any cash on me this morning. This is unbelievable!”

The customer strolled through the doors, waving her receipt over her head. “Cash only folks,” she announced and then power-walked out. I knew I shouldn’t get mad but I was! I was upset, as anyone would be. It was finally my turn, I couldn’t go. I had no money.

That’s when the lady behind me said, “I’ll pay for it. Go ahead! You have waited all this time.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I stared back at her; others behind her were waiting for the line to move yet they looked on as we had our exchange. Perhaps they were deciding: ‘Should I continue with my impatience and holiday stress or get swept up in witnessing this act of kindness?’

Kindness, care, attention, love. I fumbled for my phone so I could get her number or email and send her the money; she refused. I offered Venmo, Paypal? Nope.

“Please,” she said, tears now filling her eyes. “Let me do this for you. I can’t be with my son this year,” she said, gesturing towards her packages headed to New York. “And you can’t be with your mom. But we can still brighten someone’s day.”

I wiped at my eyes and said something I never say but, in that moment, I meant every syllable. I said, “Bless your heart.”

$14.68. But, really, it was like a lottery ticket. A solid gold bar. She did in fact brighten my day and so much more! It was an act of giving, and of receiving. An act of care, of humanity. It was an act of love. And she insisted on remaining anonymous.

That vibration carried me all day, all month really because here I am this morning, compelled to share it with all of you. We can love our pieces of clothing, our friends and lovers, those in our care, like my students. We can say we love anything, anyone, at anytime because frankly, words are cheap, and easy. But perhaps it’s time to expand and maybe re-vision our methods of distribution. The word may be over-used but the feeling—the experience of Love—never gets old.

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