More than these greens tossed with toasted pecans, I want to serve you the hymn I sang into the wooden bowl as I blended the oil and white vinegar.
More than honey ice cream beside the warm pie, I want to serve you the bliss in the apples’ flesh, how it gathered the sun and carried its luminousness to this table. More than the popovers, the risen ecstasy of wheat, milk and eggs, I want to serve you the warmth that urged the tranformation to bread.
Blessings, I want to serve you full choruses of hallelujah, oh so wholly here in this moment. Oh so holy here in this world.
This beautiful poem, Thanksgiving, was penned by Rosemerry Wahtola Trimmer. All photographs courtesy of my dear friend, Donna Sullivan.
I’m forever grateful for this opportunity to sing at Sunday Brunch with the Harlem Gospel Choir. I’m not a culinary expert by any means, nor am I a professional singer. But I do rattle around in the kitchen some, and I’m all about making a joyful noise!
I suspect that’s why this poem really resonates with me. It speaks to the savory-sweet truths about Thanksgiving. A tasty meal doesn’t require perfect recipes and the just-right serving dishes. It’s all about serving others–meeting your beloveds’ needs with compassion and grace. Abundance is sometimes equated with heaping plates and that uncomfortable, overstuffed feeling that follows. But in fact, a bountiful life is more accurately measured by our generosity of spirit. And here’s the essence of the poem, as I read it: When we prepare food with a song in our hearts, it nourishes everyone who gathers around our tables. And when we are “wholly here in the moment,” we give and receive a gracious plenty.
In the gauzy hour before sunrise, our shuttle pulls into the circular driveway of Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Streetlamps twinkle on shiny poles, and polished travertine gleams in our headlights. My husband collects his pre-op instructions; I give his hand a gentle squeeze. Sirens wail. Paramedics lower a gurney from an ambulance, and the hospital doors whoosh open, bathing everyone in light.
Hollywood-style glitz, more often associated with its namesake than your typical hospital
Here, staff members treat surgical patients with the same accord as trauma patients, who get the same level of care as celebrities who roll up to the entrance in chauffer-driven Bentleys. Stretched by limited space and overwhelming demand, staff members nevertheless find a way to share a deep appreciation for the human beings that occupy their beds. “What’s your story?” finds its harmony in the oft-repeated, “How can I help you?”
Several hours later, I find myself pacing the length of the recovery unit. A grizzled man clings to an IV pole, winces as he shuffles past me, pivots, and matches his steps to mine. “Way to go,” I say, and he gives me a wan smile.
“I was born in the original UCLA hospital,” I say.
“Don’t date yourself,” he warns.
We walk together in silence, but before long, he’s describing for me a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam. He’d signed up for the military after high school—same as his daddy, and his granddaddy before him. But while he didn’t expect a hero’s welcome when he returned home as a decorated paratrooper, neither did he expect to be pelted with glass bottles, verbal expletives, and spit. He shrugs, scratches the tattoos that span the length of his arms, says his heart transplant was probably caused by stress. But he is quick to reassure me that the protesters hadn’t broken his spirit. He is proud of his children, and several grandchildren look up to him, now.
We linger in my husband’s doorway, talking softly while he emerges from his anesthesia haze. A nurse swoops in, repositions the cotton gown around his shoulders, offers him water, and fluffs his pillows. Eric opens his eyes, gives me a weak smile that says, roughly translated: “I love you. We made it.”
They are worlds apart, my husband and this wounded veteran. Their paths converged in this hospital because of health concerns, nothing more. Their prognoses are good. They have everything in the world to live for, and they know it.
Believe it or not, the same can be said for the people who huddle inside these temporary quarters, parallel-parked on a road less travelled.
You’ve perhaps seen this kind of encampment on your way to work: a derelict dwelling that afflicts the comfortable. Most people avert their eyes as they hurry past…but I don’t.
What I’m about to tell you might come as a surprise to some, given that I most often blog about hummingbirds and butterflies, wonders of nature and writerly stuff.
As the daughter of an itinerant preacher, I’m intimately familiar with the musky odors of makeshift quarters like these. I’ve experienced poverty so severe that it creeps into your psyche, have endured hunger pangs so severe that they feel like a shank to the belly. I spent a good portion of my childhood in the margins, wholly dependent on the kindnesses of strangers. Despite–or maybe because of all this–I cling to the comforting words of my Nana: “In the darkest nights of winter, watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
Nana taught me to lean in the direction of things that are “lovely, honest, and true,” to believe, without wavering, that “joy cometh in the morning.” She never stood in the pulpit, but by her example, I learned the simple elegance of the Golden Rule. It’s the gold standard, when it comes to taking the measure of your life.
I’m not afraid to venture into neighborhoods best known for crumbling sidewalks, ghost signs and hazard cones, and curbs so steeped in garbage that you turn your ankle when you step into the street against the light. Call me reckless if you will, but I’m not afraid to venture into darkness to serve “the least of these.” I love the whirr of iridescent wings, but this is the pulse of my life.
Rarely has any of this made its way into my blog–not explicitly, anyway–for reasons I’d rather not go into right now. Mary Oliver once said: “Write for whatever holy things you believe in.” I’ve always done that, sometimes in broader strokes than others. But the events of this past weekend have inspired me to put a finer point on things this morning.
All that to say: when I sprinkle candies over a swirl of frozen yogurt (to celebrate my husband’s homecoming), I also toss a large wedge of gourmet Swiss cheese into the grocery cart. An impulse buy, for total strangers.
I keep a respectful distance, smiled as I peer into the shadows. “Hi, my name is Melodye,” I say, “Do either of you like cheese?”
Four hands, light and dark, stretch beyond the portal of the tent. A wordless answer, easily translated.
We exchange names, share a few pleasantries, and then I retreat to the warmth of my car. New friendships need oxygen, and grace.
In Inky and Starr’s mirrored sunglasses, I see reflections of our shared humanity.
Storm clouds cover the sun with a wooly-gray blanket. Heavy winds lift the edges of the tarp. My husband’s discharge process takes longer than expected, and as I tap-tap-tap my fingers on the steering wheel, my heart tugs me in the direction of their curbside home. Again. I cut the engine, shove my keys into my purse, grab my camera, and cross the street.
“May I sit with you for a while?” I ask. The answer is yes!
We warm ourselves around a makeshift grill, spin yarns about our childhoods, and muse about the events that brought us all together. They’d met two years ago, Starr tells me, at a bus stop in Hollywood. Inky gives her shoulders an affectionate squeeze, “I’ve been looking for her for all my life,” he says, “and we’ll be together for always.”
“Would you mind if I take your picture?” I ask. “And maybe take a short video, so I can share your story with my friends?”
Inky flings his arms open, fingers splayed, and flashes an open-mouthed grin. “Sure,” he says. Starr nods, with no hesitation whatsoever. So I switch my camera to video mode, and press the shutter button. The result is this unedited clip–not inclusive of everything we covered in our earlier conversation, but enough for you to get better acquainted. Roll straight through to the end, and you might learn something new about me, too. I’ve never fielded this question publicly, but his curiosity was genuine, and disarming…
Call them serendipitous, call them happenstance or good luck. But the truth is, these seemingly random encounters occur more often than anyone (aside from my closest friends and family members) might guess. My husband calls them “a Melodye thing.” I call them shivery magic–miracles that come of flinging your heart’s door wide open, and basking in the light.
The tea house is filled with the homey smells of fresh-baked scones, cut flowers, and holiday goodies. Ornaments hang like jewels from the ceiling, intertwined with plaid ribbons and twinkling lights. Sara’s wearing her Winter Princess gown, and why not? It’s our very first holiday tea, and we’re celebrating in style.
Sara chooses the TreeHouse luncheon, strawberry tea, and a heart-shaped scone. I opt for the quiche and vanilla tea.
Our server places two teapots and strainers on our table, suggests we might want to read our tea leaves when we’re done.
Sara spoons a generous amount of sugar into her teacup, adds liberal swirls of cream. She tells me she’s tasted sugar cubes, once or twice. So yummy! “At my grandma’s house,” she adds.
“My Nana used to plop them into her English Breakfast tea,” I say; and though I’m flooded with nostalgia, I’m smiling at the effervescence of this day.
Our server returns to the table, refreshes our water glasses. “Those flowers are 100% edible,” she reminds us. Sara takes a nibble, promptly steals repositions my camellia.
We eat our fill, and then visit the adobe houses and shops along Los Rios, the oldest neighborhood street in California. I follow Sara’s lead…
Turns out, Santa’s elves have an affinity for gardening. Seems they also love birds, same as us.
Such a coincidence, too, that this watering can looks very much like a teapot.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The Grinch nailed a wreath to his front gate–because, you know, Santa’s watching.
Sara’s transfixed by the “love dove” on this merchant’s porch, but I’m drawn to the rusted birdcage that stands empty. Save for its rusted patina, it looks identical to the one in which my Nana kept Curly, her pet canary.
We admire a local artisan’s wares: kitchen utensils, bracelets, and jewelry, exquisitely carved and then polished to a high sheen.
A caboose rumbles down the railroad tracks, chasing its engine, and Christmas tunes blare from hidden speakers. Sara’s humming to herself, and so am I. There’s an easy harmony between us.
We savor our special outing, capture its magic in a gazing ball….
And as quick as you can say “Cinderella,” Sara’s traded her princess gown for play clothes!
“Now,” says my little elf on the shelf, “it’s time to bake Christmas cookies!”
I’m excited to share the small but personally meaningful role I played in Pacific Symphany’s eagerly anticipated Beyond Land and Ocean.
In creating this musical homage to Orange County, Composer-in-Residence Narong Prangcharoen drew inspiration from personal encounters with our region’s landscapes and people. He also invited local residents to submit artistic responses to two key questions: What makes Orange County home, and what unites its people?
Image courtesy of Pacific Symphony Orchestra
As the project moved from creative vision to musical composition (a process chronicled here), Prangcharoen harmonized his personal impressions with community members’ input, including mine. The resulting piece makes its world premiere at Orange County’s Segerstrom Concert Hall on Sunday, October 4th.
If you guessed that I wrote a piece about hummingbirds, you’d be right. My submission is featured on the OC in Unison project website, alongside a photograph of Hope. Want to see an excerpt? Click and scroll to the second story from the top.)
Hope, that thing with feathers, is carrying music on her wings.
Want to know more about Hope and ‘my’ backyard hummingbird brood? Click here.
Continuing Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2015 photography challenge… Our final word for Week One is smooth. I was considering a classic shot (rippled Hermès scarf, anyone?), but today’s snap was inspired by the lyrics to “Uptown Funk.”
Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson, Mississippi
If we show up, we gon’ show out
Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.
Am I the only one who experienced a bit of of déjà vu when the video first played?
Image via @Forbes on Twitter
“Gotta kiss myself, I’m so pretty.” — Bruno Mars
Image via styles-oscar.blogspot.com
“I’m the greatest, I’m a bad man, and I’m pretty!” — Muhammed Ali
Much as I appreciate a smooth talker, I’m already thinking about tomorrow’s challenge. All I can say right now is, What on earth?
1. I never dreamed I’d live so close to the ocean, but I’ve always felt its pull.
2. If Nature is a magician, I’ve fallen under her spell.
3. I can’t explain this #NanaLove any more than I can count the stars.
4. Happy is my default setting.
5. “Your home should rise up to greet you,” says Nate Berkus, “And at the end of the day, it should ground you in a sense of peace.” I’m not an interior decorator by any means, but I think my home is comfortable and welcoming.
Day 6 of Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2015 photography challenge. The phrase of the day is 5 Facts about Me. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’d probably create a wholly different collage. Maybe I’d adjust the zoom lens, crop the pictures a little tighter. But this is pretty decent selfie, for a first attempt.
Remember the lively conversations we once shared around the family table on Sundays? If you close your eyes, can you also recall the delicious aromas that wafted from the kitchen? Fried chicken and cornbread, syrupy pancakes and scrambled eggs…food so tasty, its closest rival was the toe-tapping, tambourine-waving music you heard in church that morning? That’s the feeling we’re going for with #SweetSundayBrunch, a weekly Twitter chat that I’m co-hosting with the Harlem Gospel Choir.
In 140 characters: #SweetSundayBrunch is soul food, served fresh every Sunday morning via social media. Join our global conversation every week, starting 6/21.
Share snaps of your Sunday gatherings (Image copyright Harlem Gospel Choir)
#SweetSundayBrunch is also inspired by the incomparable joy that came of singing with the Harlem Gospel Choir. I still get teary-eyed when I think about the day I blogged about being a “caged bird” who trembled at the very thought of singing out loud, even in private. I challenged myself to take a workshop with the world-famous gospel choir, at the Escondido Performing Arts Center. It was definitely outside my comfort zone, but it stood at the very top of my bucket list, and I was ready for the challenge.
To my great surprise, I was invited by the lead singer to join the choir onstage, and to stand next to her in the spotlight. To my even greater amazement, I sang a full-throated version of “Oh Happy Day” at center stage, without fear or inhibition. When the final grace note dissolved into silence, each of the choir members came forward and hugged me. The lead singer ushered me offstage, but not before saying (loud enough for all to hear), “We’ve been friends for a long time. But we are more than that… we are family.” It was one of the most authentic expressions of love that I’ve ever experienced, and I (along with the Harlem Gospel Choir) want to share it with all of you.
Me, shortly after singing onstage with the Harlem Gospel Choir–oh, happy day!
#SweetSundayBrunch is an interfaith, nondenominational, toe-tapping, tambourine waving, guilt-free gathering that’ll make you wish you could scratch-and-sniff your Twitter page.
Whet our appetites! (Sunday Brunch on Lummi Island, copyright Nina Laden)
Our first Twitter chat is this coming Sunday, June 21st. Since we’re expecting guests from around the world, it’s not tied to a certain time zone.
Connect with us every week by adding the hashtag#SweetSundayBrunch to your Sunday morning tweets. Got extra characters? Add @MelodyeShore and/or @HarlemGospel.
Share a good word, choir pics, song lyrics, snaps of your Sunday gatherings…bring what you’ve got to the table & invite your friends to join us.
Tweet and retweet people who use the #SweetSundayBrunch hashtag, and ‘follow’ those whose interests you share.
No copy/paste advertisements, rants, or porn.
Mention Sweet Sunday Brunch by name—as much as you’d like, much appreciated! But please save the hashtag [#SweetSundayBrunch] for our weekly gatherings. [#SweetSundayBrunch is our registered hashtag, and we’ve also created a @SweetSunBrunch Twitter profile.]
Post pictures of your Sunday gatherings! Image copyright Harlem Gospel Choir
Follow the Golden Rule. Meaning: be generous of spirit & open-minded.
Give and you shall receive. Extend the hand of friendship, take away an encouraging word.
Make a joyful noise. Jump in, speak up, give a shout out…have fun!
Sound fun? We hope so! This is our first foray into the hashtag world, so we’re hoping you’ll help boost the signal.
an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
good fortune; luck
Coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92), from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (Dictionary.com)
Late last week, I received word from Jennifer Pastiloff that “Grace Notes” was accepted for publication at The Manifest-Station, the hugely popular online journal that published my holiday piece, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.” I promised Jennifer that I’d find and send her an illustration, even though I knew already that nothing in my own photo collection matched the story. Leap, and then look. Not always, but that’s usually how I roll.
Mockingbirds figure prominently in the story, so that’s where I focused my quest. A couple of Google images looked promising, so I reached out to the website owners on which they were featured: May I use your picture, in exchange for attribution and a wider reach for your beautiful work? One blogger said yes, but when I realized she’d “borrowed” the copyrighted photo without authorization, I bowed out quickly.* But wait! I found something even shinier, and more befitting!
“Mockingbird in the Sun,” copyright Pat D. Hemlepp. Used with permission
Pat Hemlepp calls himself a “photo hobbyist,” but his image gallery is as professional as can be. A total stranger, mind you, but what’s to lose by asking if I can use this gorgeous shot? Quite understandably, he said he needed time to Google search this crazy woman consider my request. “No pressure,” I said, “I’d want you to feel 100% sure it’s the right thing to do—that it aligns with your interests & honors your beautiful work.”
It was in that waiting period—where Hope and Awareness pool their resources, and then set out on a quest of their own – that I “just so happened” to land on my artistic friend Veronica Roth’s Facebook post. As synchronicity would have it, she’d “just so happened” to be painting one of her signature pieces (exquisite watercolor images, overlaid on ephemora). “My friend Diana suggested I paint a mockingbird next,” she wrote. “Working on it. Almost done.” And there it was: a sweet little songbird, pretty as could be…bird feathers and musical notes, harmonizing together on a church voluntary called “Improvisation.”
“Mockingbird,” copyright Veronica Roth. Used with permission
I got goosebumps–same reaction as when I landed on the Harlem Gospel Choir’s Facebook page a couple of months ago. Same as I always do, when I stumble upon the shivery magic that old Horace described as “accidental good fortune.”
It’s not like I was born under a lucky star. I most assuredly wasn’t. Why, then, do I always seem to fall into happy circumstances? It’s a mystery, even for this Nancy Drew wanna-be. Miracles can happen. Of that, I feel certain. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the concept of preordained circumstances; don’t know that I’d put all my faith in the Secret; and find challenging the belief that you can bring to fruition certain things in your life by sitting on a meditation cushion, chanting mantras as your fingers slide from bead to bead on a rosewood mala. I don’t dismiss these ideas outright, but I don’t buy them absolutely.
Could be that when you’re traveling the right road, you meet up with the right people. Researchers seem to think there’s a sure-fire formula for serendipity, beyond the simple rules of cause-effect. What I know for sure is that Serendipity is more likely to show up on our doorsteps when we open our hearts, minds and eyes to Possibility—when we’re willing to look beyond the messy inconvenience of scattered breadcrumbs and to venture down uncharted paths, to see where they might lead.
Not long after I saw Veronica’s watercolor image, Pat graciously granted me permission to use his lovely photograph for my story. That deadline had come and gone, so he allowed me to use “Mockingbird in the Sun” for this blog entry. I’m grateful. And I’m glad for the serendipitous chain of events that brought me to his website in the first place. I’ve bookmarked his page, for the sheer joy of discovering the latest additions to his galleries. Same with Veronica’s online studio, which I visit on a regular basis.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say how fortunate I feel, to have my story published on Manifest-Station. If you’ve got time to read “Grace Notes,” I’d love to hear your thoughts.
*In return for these artists’ generosity, I’d like to share with my fellow bloggers the rules for using someone else’s creative property. As with many of you, I’m more aware of the rules now than I was when I first started blogging, so I’m in the process of removing copyrighted graphics from old posts. As Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.”
I'm in the process of updating my website and will be migrating my LiveJournal blog over to WordPress. I started this process a while back and am looking forward to putting a fresh face on everything by year's end, if not sooner. Keep your eye out for the official launch here, and/or by clicking the "follow" button in the menu bar at the top of Joyful Noise.
I don't want to lose any of you in the move, so I'll be posting blog entries here for a while longer (look below this post for the latest). And as always, I'd love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.