A Moment to Honor Our Marriage

40 years later- We still fit in our wedding clothes!

A week ago, Steve and I repeated our wedding vows on the occasion of our 40th wedding anniversary. We were sort of hippies back then so our vows reflected that.

” I want to live with you just as you are. I choose you above all others to share my life with you and this is the only evidence there can be that I love you. I want to love you for yourself in the hope you will become all that you can be. i promise to honor this pledge for as long as faith and hope endure–for our love’s endless season.”

Steve and I then commented on our vows 40 years later– and this is what I said to him that night with a few friends and our children who gathered.

“If I were to say my vows now, I’d say that yes, the fact that we’ve stayed together for 40 years and are now happier in many ways than we were when we said those vows, is indeed the evidence  that I love you. 

The first time I saw you, you were drawing a sketch of your cabin on a napkin at a cross country ski patrol meeting. 4 months later I was at that cabin when you put the door in. Four cabins later, you might say we have led the cabin life and shared it with hundreds of people ov er the years.. We have been faithful to each other as we vowed and we have kept faith in God through thick and thin. We have crossed glacier rivers, climbed a lot of mountains, rafted wild rivers, kayaked both calm and stormy seas, walked across Spain, basked in tropical sun and waters, canoed in the Amazon jungle, watched rocks fly out of a volcano (pyroclastic flow), camped in hundreds of some sketchy, some mind-blowing places,  skied in the face of Denali many times, landed on a remote mountain tops in a plane, dove through a 100 foot waterfall to a blue lagoon in Costa Rica, sailed on that pristine morning out of Day Harbor, had some great margaritas at La Buena Vida Bar in Akumal and fallen in love with the Red Rocks of the Southwest touring in our camper.  We have had a life of adventure and I don’t regret a second of it—even when I thought I was going to die or you were going to die or I was so cold or so tired I couldn’t make it. But we always kept going and by grace we are here now. 

We have had what we vowed—a love of what? 4 x40+160 seasons–maybe now endless but at least it seems that they will always go on this way. We may not have made it without our friends and family.  You have made these years all the richer. To all of you,  those living and those passed, you gave us our ground and we thank you deeply.  

And to you Steve, there are so many ways I wouldn’t change you at all– for your honesty and simple way of living, for how you move through the wilderness, with such connection and confidence, for the way you light up and sing me a good morning every day, for loving my cooking and always thinking it’s gourmet, for the way you delight in our children and grandchildren, for the way you know what I’m going to say before I say it and for thinking I’m still cute when I’m feeling old, I love you more than ever. May the adventures continue and the seasons grow richer.


The Migration Muddle

A friend of mine from Phoenix is preparing to be part of a panel that explores immigration issues. He has 6-8 minutes to present and is discerning what is the most important thing from his experience to say. He challenged me with: “What Would Marcia Do?” “What would be your talking points if asked to speak on ‘From Tribalism to Oneness’ in regard to immigration in 6-8 minutes?” I felt the weight of the question immediately, felt its enormity and felt its necessity. As my friend says, we are all immigrants. What is my story? 

How far back should I go? In one sense, like everyone else, I’m an immigrant from Africa. I know through my mother’s line, for example, that I immigrated thru Asia and into Northern Europe. More recently, if the 1400’s are recent then, I have a recorded history of settling in Norway, particularly on the western coast, on an island near Bergen. Then 4 generations ago, I can say I am part of a family that immigrated from Norway to Illinois in the 1880’s. Then my grandmother moved to Iowa where I was born. In 1975 I “immigrated” to Alaska to a land that was first settled by the Alaska indigenous peoples. (I like the Canadian way of naming them “First Nation” people.) My ancestry is a migration from Africa to Alaska. 

I remember how out of place I first felt moving to Alaska–for work, for adventure, for a better life. I am like most migrants. I didn’t understand the Native culture here at all. I didn’t understand the way of Native time, the way of knowing the land, the way of listening, the food, the humor, the wisdom, the dance, the art, the alcoholism. I was the first time for me of being off balance in a place. I was coming in the dominant culture of white America, but I floundered in this new place where I wasn’t welcomed by all. I was hated for being white, called names, not trusted, not part of this tribe. And I would soon learn why the trust was broken. Eventually I would have Natives who called me friend, but I knew I was the one who was migrating to their land, not the other way around.

Years later, I would be the one welcoming immigrants from Laos–the Hmong who fathers had fought with the Americans during the Vietnam Era in the “Secret War in Laos.” The few that made it out after the Americans deserted them, were eventually given green cards as promised to come to the U.S. after years in camps in Thailand. A resilient and fiercely bonded tribe of their own, this people never had their own country but lived in the mountains of several countries in Southeast Asia, Laos being one of them. How we stumbled to know each other and to live together in harmony and understanding! Despite our best efforts on both sides, I didn’t even know what prejudices and assumptions I held unconsciously until this mirror was held before my face. The parents had never had an education; “sisters” turned out to be one of many wives of the father; birthdates were unknown because that was considered unlucky in that culture. I brought them canned food which they politely accepted but then gave away to the food pantry; they ate only freshly prepared vegetables and meat. Saying “yes” to me sometimes meant “no”; they were being polite but I had asked something of them that they couldn’t do. I have hundred more examples. They came for a better life without much money, not knowing the language and guessing at the customs. Again, some of them are deeply tied to me yet. And I am still learning how to be with them and they with me. We have hurt each other’s feelings so many times without knowing why or how. 

I do not live near the border with Mexico as my friend does. I don’t know how it impacts his community or his life. But I know he is honestly struggling as I am to understand how to take this issue past the safety and familiarity of belonging to a “tribe’ where customs and language, art and history, values and religion are shared and known. To move to a place where we understand each other as all members of the human race is like leaping a chasm. It leaves behind that comfort and security to risk not knowing–to being okay with not knowing how to do it, but sensing it is the only way forward for us to continue to evolve as human beings.

Tribal affiliation has so much richness to it; I’m not saying it needs to be sacrificed. God apparently loves this diversity. But tribalism lumps everyone together not in Oneness but in prejudice. I learned that the way to break into my own limits of tribalism was to meet someone I didn’t understand and first see them as a fellow human being, and then see them, for example, as a Native or Hmong. What comes first sets the stage for relationship or lack thereof, judgment or allowing, holding a fixed position or having the freedom of an open mind, operating out of fear for our own security or a curiosity about another human being. Humans have been on the move since we first evolved to standing on two feet. We migrate, searching for food, for security, for work and better way of life for our families–or simply to see a new place. I know from my experience as well that sometimes boundaries have to be set. The migrant fears too, has prejudices, has anger and resentment. We meet at the border with our inner and outer defenses. Yet beyond our armored egos, we are also souls inhabiting the same planet. 

If we could only see ourselves so privileged to be alive in this vast space of the universe–to see this tiny spot of blue and green in the vast quiet universe, a star amongst billions, but the only one that we know that has life. Then our human need to struggle to survive could quiet a little in the awe and grace that we are alive at all.

There is a bear

 There is a bear walking in the woods

tonight around my house,

Or so the neighbors tell me. 


Like me, 

Looking for a kind of food. 

I feel his need, 

His relentless need,

To eat, to survive, to find.

He should be in a den covered with snow

But the winter is long delayed.

So he rambles in the woods tonight

And I hesitate to walk the path I usually 


But then I do. 

I notice the woods feel more alive now. 

I am more alive. 

I notice every sound

And search for any movement. 

I think of nothing else than this. 

A bear is walking in the woods tonight

And I am walking too,

Hungry to stay alive, 

Like him, 

Delaying winter, staying awake. 

A grainy iPhone photo of our night bear; I like that it’s blurry–it adds to his mystery.

Listening Beneath the Words

I am finally emerging from a crummy cold. Not a horrible nasty one, but still enough to empty a few Kleenex boxes and have me scouring the medicine cabinet for relief and something to let me sleep. Being sick brings its own small gifts; I read a book I was meaning to pick up and really study this time; I watched a total of 8 episodes of a Ken Burns’ documentary and I found strangely enough that I could meditate well, even through the sniffling and coughing.

It also gave me time to sit with my disquiet that has lingered since spending a week with my mother who has moderate Alzheimer’s. I only say ‘moderate’ because that is what the care plan coordinator has written down. I haven’t wanted to learn how to name the stages–I only know how difficult it is as a daughter to watch her mother’s memory slip away.

I think it became obvious her loss of memory was more than just a ‘senior moment’ about 5 years ago. She became unable to read her bank statement or add up things in her checkbook. She began to confuse the days of the week and began misplacing things. Slowly my phone calls to her began to surprise me; she would ask me the same question maybe 3 times in an hour phone call. At first I would remind her that she had just asked me that question, I suppose in an attempt to nudge her mind into gear again. But it was more that I was in denial. I began to realize that reminding her wasn’t any help at all and only served to embarrass or confuse her. Gradually, I became aware of more and more repetition in our calls. She would get stuck in a loop of asking the same question unless I distracted her with a long term memory. She still could recall things from the past very well, as is the usual progression of memory loss. Slowly, I could tell she had a few stock questions or comments that allowed her keep a conversation going: “How old are your grandkids now?” “Do they live close to you?” “How are things going up there?” “What are guys up to?”

I tried giving different answers, just to see if one was more satisfying than another. But that didn’t seem to matter. And I let go of my need to remind her and tried to answer the question as if she had asked it for the first time instead of the tenth. I thought I had come to some peace about her memory loss, just happy that in the moment she still had a sense of humor and even nuance about some topics.

But I was having a harder time with the fact that she did not remember when I called or when people had come to see her. She lived in the reality that she had not seen anyone for weeks and that I had not stayed in touch. Not wanting her to think I didn’t care, I tried to suggest that I had just talked with her or remind her that my sister was there yesterday. But again, this was all for my benefit, not hers. I was so sad that her default reality was that no one came to see her when in reality someone was there everyday. When I visited this last time, it seemed she had some sense that I was in town, but by the last day when I went to say goodbye to her, she asked me when I had arrived. Without thinking it through, I said, “Oh about a week ago.” I could see the look of hurt on her face. “Nobody told me your were coming. I’ve been here. You could have come.”

What could I say? If I told her I had seen her every day the past week, would that confuse her more? But if I brushed it off in the moment, would that hurt as well to think I had not come to see her? Even knowing she wouldn’t remember what I said in the NOW, I could feel the helplessness of not knowing the steps to this new dance–a dilemma faced by so many in this time when we live longer, yet our memories fade.

Certainly I count my blessings. She still knows me. She still is so grateful for her life. She still wants to visit and listen to my stories about the grandkids. She can still walk and be in her own home. She can easily laugh. She forces me to live only in the present moment and to mine what we can from that reality.

Still there was this sadness that lingered on my return. I spoke about it with a spiritual teacher and then, even as I described my angst, a vision came to me as I closed my eyes of a golden thread that looped back and forth from my mother’s heart to my own. I could see how alive and vibrant it was and how the connection was strong and unbreakable. Of course! The mind may go, but this binding was eternal and flaming, undiminished by the disease in her brain. Seeing that glimpse of what was still very real erased my sadness. The love was there and would always remain. Even as memory and words fade more and more with time, and I know they will, here is my constant. We will know each other in the way I knew her when her eyes first met mine and love was immediate, unconditional and golden.

I’m listening to her questions repeated over and over now when she calls, when I hear her try so hard to keep up the connection. I hear her words in that voice I’ve heard since the womb. But now, there is a deeper listening. I hear her heart in those words; I sense her love; I listen to the vastness of her soul that has no words, no sound. It’s more than just an old adage; Love really does conquer all.