Breakfast


I think I shared breakfast with Jesus this morning.


We had been to Willa's favorite "soda" – a tiny diner on the beach in this gritty tourist town.  I chose a big Sunday breakfast – pork chop, "gallo pinto" (rice and beans), tortilla.  We spoke with the owner as we sipped our cafes con leche, asking about his mother, an octogenarian who would still be running the place if life were up to her.

The breakfasts were huge, and the remains of mine were soon resting in the requisite styrofoam container.  Next stop was Mass; I really hadn't counted on walking in with food to go.  But I also was fixated on how good that chop would taste later in the day.

Between the diner and the church there is a lovely fountain surrounded by small palms and other tropical plants.  It looks like my image of the biblical wells where women came to fill jars with water and share news.  It also has one of the few drinking fountains in town.  I realized how thirsty I was, and drank deeply.



As I stepped back to give Willa her turn, I noticed movement in the shadows of the plants behind the fountain.  All I could see were eyes, and a smile, like the Cheshire Cat.  The form took shape and words emerged from the deep foliage; despite my surprise I greeted the man behind the smile.  Then he said,

"Can you give me something to eat?"

There was no hiding the styrofoam container; it shone bright white with heat and presence.  I looked at Willa, gulped, and walked the around the well to hand it over.  The young man stepped out of the vegetation, looking like many of the young men who get washed up on the shore of life every morning here.

He thanked me, and apologized – I'm not sure for what:  For being poor and hungry?  For taking my leftovers?  For being in a position of having to beg for food?  As we walked on toward church, my primary feeling was shame.  That I had been afraid of him.  That I had to think about it - I didn't want to let go of my leftovers.  That they were not even my first-overs, but the scraps from my table.  And that I did not have a fork to offer him a shred of dignity when he ate them.



I thought that was my spiritual shake-up moment for the day, but God is never done with me that easily.  We arrived at church during the readings, and I heard from 1Cor 4:

"Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
...
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts..."

"Steward of the mysteries of God" – I felt like that, handing over my food, as the man hidden in darkness walked out to lay my motives and heart in the bright sunlight.

The readings continued on to Matthew 6:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? . . .
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear? . . .
...your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
. . . So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

I have been worrying about a lot of tomorrows in the past year.  Yet I find myself in a lovely place with extra food in my hand.  I meet Jesus coming out of the palm fronds, asking me (Jesus asking me!) for food.  Usually I am the one asking, begging, from God.

The priest used the readings to underscore the community's need to care for one another.  This town, like most in our world now, has a few people walking down the street with money to burn in their pockets, many others working hard to keep their heads above water, and countless others who are close to losing the struggle with the waves that crash over them. 

The world is so out of balance, and tipping more than ever the last few weeks.  I have no illusion that my small act can begin to rebalance the world.  But it was what I could do today.  I hope I eased his hunger for a bit – God knows he fed me.  Yet still, I am thirsty.

On the death of my band teacher


I was in the middle of trumpet practice when I got the news.  After playing a string of high notes I never could have hit in high school, I glanced through my email and saw words I had long expected and dreaded:

Mr. Roina died.

I envy those of you who can call him "Ed."  More than four decades later, this teachers' kid still cannot use that level of familiarity.  Perhaps Paula, another teacher's kid, will understand.  But her dad inspired that mixture of both familiarity and respect.  In the avalanche of comments on Facebook, I've seen everything from "he turned my life around" to people who got to interact with him on a frequent and familiar level.
   

Ted Kennedy famously eulogized, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life."  I have tried not to let my memories run away with the real Ed Roina, yet it is hard not to idealize a man, a teacher, who touched so many lives, and who lived a life we might not believe if it were written as fiction.  To understand what I mean, read the excellent piece "And His Band Played On" by Jannette Jauregui, published in the Santa Paula Times 12/03/03.

Some teachers put up with us.  Some liked us.  Some loathed us.  I think that Ed Roina truly loved us.  I know he was harder on some than on others, and that some of us drove him crazy.  But my experience was that he was fair and respectful to all.  Along with family and church, band was where I learned the things that formed the core of who I am, my best self.  I learned to work as a group, and especially in marching band I saw how individuals working together can create a whole that is efficient and beautiful.

Besides music, I learned discipline, responsibility, and adaptation.  I remember Mr. Roina's story about playing tuba to qualify for a position (perhaps the Navy band?) and seeing a low note approaching that he knew his instrument could not hit.  When the note arrived, he sang it (I can hear his rich basso voice) and moved on.  He got the position.  Years later as a very young marching band student, I was lining up for the parade route when he noticed my red socks.  I had proudly chosen them, thinking they coordinated well with the uniform.  I learned about regulation uniforms when, after an exasperated sigh, he traded his darker socks for mine – explaining that the judges might deduct less points than if they saw them on me.

I look back at band as the great melting pot of grade school, junior high, and high school.  It was the class that saved my life and sanity all through school.  During years when I felt out of place everywhere, I "belonged" in band.  All of us:  "soshes", jocks, brains, nerds, the quiet, the unseen, the unclean, all the castes of our adolescent society – we became one and we all "belonged" in band.

I was never the strongest or most talented player, and I should have practiced way more than I did.  But I know that I looked forward to band every day, and the time passed way too quickly.  I started out at 11 years old on trombone; after an initial mild double-take ("You want to play trombone?") he became my musical mentor for life. 

There are always things we wish someone had done, or not done – I wish he had encouraged me to continue music in college; and I wish he had not praised Sandra King's talent in a twist when I initially thought he was talking about mine (Sandy, do you know how much he admired your playing?)  I waited three years with the hope of being first trombone my senior year, and was disappointed to not be chosen. I learned to overcome disappointment, to always keep playing, and that every player is integral to the group.  He recognized that plodding determination when, much to my surprise, he called my name as the Eva Walden music award recipient.  And I thought he was talking about Sandy in his lead up to the award.

The gifts he gave me will never end. He started a jazz band when I was in high school.  I never heard this music in my home and I never quite "got" it.  But he kept letting me play.  Thirty years later I was playing trumpet in a jazz band that performed in local venues, and I was "getting" it and loving it.  I continue to play in the local community band.

I've just agreed to play in a Veterans' Day parade, and that reminded me of a Veterans' Day at the Santa Paula cemetery, playing "My Buddy" and seeing grown men weep as they listened.  I was learning the power of music, but I had no idea what that song meant to Mr. Roina until reading Jannette's article.  He was the kind of man and teacher whose death inspires tears from former students 51 years after their first lesson.

As I read the obituary and the many comments from former students, I remembered he was also an art teacher, but I was stunned by the depth and breadth of his talent, of his life before Santa Paula.  There was also mention of the church we both attended.  I recalled how I dreaded Lent – first because it was Lent, but especially because Mr. Roina would give up his pipe.  Oh, those were dark days.  I don't know if all the broken batons happened during Lent, but I remember we could all breathe easier after those 40 days of edginess. 

He did change my life.  He taught me to play and to appreciate music, one of the passions of my life.  He provided a safe, challenging, exciting place to be every day.  


He allowed this painfully shy person to interact with classmates I otherwise would never have known.  I'm astounded to think I got up in front of all my peer musicians and earned my SP letter for conducting.  Only through his teaching, guidance, and support were so many things possible for me then, and now.

When my brother Joe died in 2001, I was back in Santa Paula at my mother's home, waiting for the funeral.  I knew I needed something to ease the grief and the waiting, and I went up the hill to the high school.  There, in a band room new to me, Ed and Barbara Roina greeted me warmly and offered condolences.  Then Mr. Roina rummaged around in the back, found an ancient trumpet, and invited me to sit in for practice.  The bewildered trumpet players couldn't know what that meant to me, but Mr. Roina certainly knew the power of music in the face of grief.  

So when I heard of his death, I turned to music, and listened through the Fauré Requiem.  Surely Mr. Roina was familiar with those soaring melodies, particularly the movement "In Paradisum", with its text from the Catholic Order of Burial.  Those are the words of farewell I pray for him now:  

"May the angels lead you into paradise . . .
  may the chorus of angels receive you . . .
  may you have eternal rest." 

Thanks, Ed, and Godspeed.


This article was originally published in the Santa Paula Times, October 25, 2013

Listen


It's been a long time since I have prayed.  

Oh, there's the communal prayer on Sundays, which is important, and the meal prayers through the day with my Sweetie.  There are the brief fits of prayer – the Anne Lamott-type prayers of "Help me Help me Help me!" and "Thank you thank you thank you!".  But I have strayed once again from the regular prayers that I wish could be like breathing – done always and every day.  And when I do include them in my daily routine, they ARE like breathing: refreshing, sustaining, life-giving. When I let them go, I wander, I flounder, I sink. 

So I sat this morning, for the first time in too long a time, to read something, anything, that would pique my spirit; and to be still, and to spiritually breathe.  The closest reading at hand was "Listen" – a publication of Spiritual Directors International.  The front page is always a short meditation.  "Good, this won't take long," my inner impatient self unconsciously assured me.  I was anxious to get on to other things that provide parts of my life, but which my heart knows are not as life giving as the breath of prayer.

I read Pegge Erkeneff's words in "Listen", trying honestly to listen, and came to the full stop of her suggested reflection:  "Pause and be still.  Listen to your heart beat.  What sensations, emotions, feelings, or thoughts are you present to, within your own body and skin, here and now?"  Seems so simple, yet there is a world of possibility here. 

"Pause and be still." 

I felt the discomfort of the chair.  I moved my hands and arms around, trying to assume a posture of peace, and quiet, and stillness.  I was distracted by objects on the table.  My spiritual kindergartner was hard at work, trying to make stillness.  I tried breathing exercises, and moved into trumpet breathing exercises, which brought up all the music I've practiced lately.  But it did finally calm me down enough to move to the next step.  Interesting how stillness can lead to movement, and vice versa... 

"Listen to your heart beat." 

I tried.  I tried to hear or feel it, just sitting in the stillness.  I could imagine I heard it, because I know my body, I know my heart, and I can replicate it's beat after all these years of listening to it.  But today, nothing.  I put my hand on my chest.  Nothing.  I put my left hand on my right one, to help in the search.  Not much – perhaps an imagined thread, a feeble cry from somewhere deep inside.  I tried for a pulse.  Faint, and sleepy.

Granted, I had just gotten out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, but this felt like something beyond sleepy heart.  This was a heart trying to get me to wake up, and it was glad I was finally paying attention.  This was a heart begging me to attend.  To it.  To life.  To sit still and listen and hear the beat.

"What sensations, emotions, feelings, or thoughts are you present to, within your own body and skin, here and now?"

First I felt sad for my own heart, trying to get my attention.  But crashing all around me and unshakable is the global bad news.  I had been to cnn.com too often, and read too many stories of mall shootings, school shootings, army base, navy yard, homes, churches, mosques, synagogues.  I knew this sadness was beyond my own individual heart.  This was the world's heart trying to get my attention.  But there must be feelings beyond sad and scared.  Otherwise we will all curl up in a fetal ball and whimper, of no use to ourselves, others, the earth, or God.

What can one heart do?

Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford wrote to her niece "I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead."

For most of us, that will not be as dramatic as it was for Ita Ford and the other church women killed in El Salvador many years ago now.  But it can be a guide for all of us – the search for that which gives life, even (especially) in the midst of so much death and sadness and lack of cooperative spirit.  I do find things that energize and enthuse me, and I am doing them.  Now how do I transform them to be life-giving for those around me?  That's my question for myself today.

And I rise from my sitting to see the sun rising quite brilliantly, glancing off the clouds and transforming them to gold.  I will go out into my ordinary day, which, as always, has the potential to be quite extraordinary.  It's all in the heartbeat.