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Here’s the very first exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Hamilton: Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?
Burr: That depends.

That’s Burr in a nutshell: unwilling to commit, even to the point of admitting his name. Oh, sure, it’s framed as a gentle rebuke to Hamilton’s manners, which he accepts: “Who’s asking?,” Burr goes on to say, a reasonable enough rejoinder when a stranger demands to know one’s name, and Hamilton catches his faux pas and introduces himself. But it is also an epitome of the defining difference between Burr and Hamilton in Miranda’s interpretation; Burr is guarded, “waiting to see which way the wind will blow” (“Non-Stop”), and Hamilton impetuous, always giving his opinion whether anyone wants to hear it or not–just as, at the end of this song, a newbie, he jumps in to the tavern debate: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

Each will drive the other up a wall, learn from the other, and adopt the other’s ways to his own advantage. This meeting is the first step along the way to Hamilton’s becoming diplomatic enough, Burr style, to gain influence (“The Room Where It Happens”), and to Burr’s acquiring enough of Hamilton’s bulldozer drive to seek power (“The Election of 1800”) and as a result, end up fatally opposed. The reality was probably muddier, but that’s one of the thoughtful simplifications Miranda chooses, stringing a thread from each man’s earliest experiences, through their career decisions, to their final confrontation.

And then, of course, there’s the foreshadowing in the warning, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead,” which would be too theatrically ominous if not immediately humorously claimed, and thus undercut, by John Laurens’ shouting “What time is it? Showtime!”

Anachronistic humor is another tricky balance the play strikes well. What kind of beer does Laurens drink? Sam Adams, of course. In the gangsta-rap style introductions, Laurens speaks defiantly about the Redcoat “cops,” which prompts thought about ways in which the British and colonists were, and were not, analagous to today’s police and African Americans. Do government forces within the 21st century US perpetuate colonialism vis a vis the citizens? The play stays firmly rooted in the 18th century, but it doesn’t shy away from planting these ideas.

The foreshadowing is in the music as well as the words. Those chords of “Aaron Burr, Sir,” the second song? We will hear them again in the second-to-last song (“The World Was Wide Enough”), just after Burr shoots Hamilton and becomes “the villain in your history.”

I am in the midst of a week’s study leave. As usual, I didn’t really clear my desk before this “break from usual responsibilities,” much less write the reflection and eulogy I will need for Sunday, so it is far from a week of pure study. But I am managing to spend most of my time immersed in two topics.

One is death and grief. My first book of the week was Irvin Yalom’s Staring Into the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. By pure chance, the reading for my women’s group was an excerpt on different ways of incorporating past losses into our lives, from On Living, a memoir by hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. Tuesday, I was browsing the natural history section of a bookstore and stumbled upon H is for Hawk, which thanks to a review, I knew was not only natural history but very much about the author’s process of mourning her father’s death. It is now on the pile. The next day, I was browsing the DVD section on a rare trip to San Francisco’s Main Library, and remembered that I’ve been looking for the first season of Six Feet Under for a while. They have it! I’ve watched two episodes, and the people who told me it’s a really good look at death and grief are right.

The other area of immersion is African American history and fiction, a long-term remediation project to fill the gaps in my education and better equip myself to fight white supremacy. I’ve read Bud Not Buddy, a children’s chapter book by Christopher Paul Curtis. I’m also reading March by Geraldine Brooks, with the grain of salt I keep on hand for books about the black experience by white people, especially fiction, but so far, so good: it’s teaching me some things about the Civil War years that I didn’t know, and I’ve been nibbling at this book since December so I really want to finish it. Next up is Ida: A Sword Among Lions, an intimidatingly thick biography of Ida Wells by Paula Giddings–many thanks to Mariame Kaba for the recommendation.

Here’s a problem I have EVERY time I cancel a print job: it doesn’t cancel. Usually it then gets stuck and won’t let me print anything else; sometimes it just ignores me and after wasting ink on what might be dozens of pages, I’m good to go. Digging into the print spooler usually, though not always, resolves the problem.

I have two questions:

  1. Is this a Windows problem, a Word problem, an HP printer problem, or an Amy problem?
  2. How do I make it stop happening?

If I were a poet, then I could probably make a poem of this story:

Some poems of Derek Walcott, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, appear on the website Poem Hunter.

Someone comments on one of them, “This is a good poem Derek, keep it up”

But I’m not much of a poet. I do appreciate good poetry, though, as well as ironic, deeply clueless comments, so hearing of his death sent me to Poem Hunter to look up some of his poems. I have read one now and then, but that’s the extent of my familiarity with his work. The very first one listed was so fitting for the service I’ve been planning for Sunday that I want to excerpt it for our centering words. It must be one of his best-known, because I’ve read it before.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I was also very moved by “R.T.S.L. (1917-1977).”

On poking around on the internet, I discovered that Walcott lost a position at Oxford when charges of past sexual harassment (which he had not disputed) were pointed out. Good. I don’t think someone who has used his position at a previous university to try to coerce students into sex should be hired by another university. And we can still love his poetry and admire whatever in him enabled him to write it. Last Sunday, speaking about issues of history and morality raised by the debates about renaming buildings that honor people we no longer consider worthy of such an honor, I made the uncontroversial pronouncement that there are no saints. The prospect of using, in the service, the lovely words of someone who abused people so badly is where that rubber meets the road.

I’m using the three-part approach to Lent that I’ve used before:

  1. give something up that drains my spirit: Facebook
  2. add something positive that feeds my spirit: draw every day, preferably before breakfast
  3. give to an organization that’s doing good in the world: the Coalition on Homelessness, since my daughter has recently asked people to donate to them in honor of her birthday (which also fell during Lent).

Do you have a Lenten practice this year? I’d love to hear about it!  (And if you’re seeing this when it posts automatically to Facebook: if you respond there, I won’t see what you wrote until after Easter . . . )

Certain songs pop up completely against my will when certain prompts come along.

When I hear the name of the town Tlacolula (a bit east of Oaxaca), I sing, “Hey Tlacolula, she’s my baby.”

When I see a sign for a “Comida Corrida” (prix fixe meal), I sing, “Comida Corrida, girl you’re on my mind.”

And when my computer game prompts me, “Do you really want to exit?” I am sure it’s singing it to the tune of “Do you really want to hurt me?” and I join in.

I have written very little here about the things we’re doing in Oaxaca. In between art, Spanish, and writing projects, there’s lots of time to just be and enjoy this city. I’m going back through our months here to fill in some of the stuff we’ve done.

Only a few weeks after our arrival, we had the terrific experience of getting together with someone we know very well from home. J. is a member of our church, has traveled here with her family before, and if I recall correctly has had a teenager from Oaxaca come stay with her and her family in Palo Alto. In June, she came to Oaxaca on her own and lived with a family here awhile. We asked her for recommendations of places to go that she’d like to see again, and she suggested we meet at the Museum of Philately (MUFI). I’m really glad she did, because I probably would have delayed going there for months, maybe skipped it entirely. I mean, philately? But it’s a lovely museum. The building itself is a treat–like so many buildings in Oaxaca, it’s built around patios and courtyards–and the exhibits were interesting. For example, in connection with the release of a stamp about corn, the museum invited artists to submit pieces about Mexico and corn. Most took the form of a stamp (not actual size, but a good 30 x 60 cm or more, the way the designers of stamps draw their originals) and the themes ranged from transgenic corn, which is an economic and environmental controversy in Mexico, to the corn-husk dolls that are common folk art here.

Then we all went to Café Brújula, also at J’s recommendation, where I drank her hot chocolate and she drank my mocha for quite some time before we realized we’d swapped. I hope the caffeine didn’t keep her up all night. The café is in an indoor shopping center and office building that had an absolutely spectacular arrangement overhead of papel picado, cut paper, for the upcoming Guelaguetza.

papel-picado-2

photo by Joy Morgenstern

Spending the day with J. was really special. When I arrived at UUCPA she was three years old; I’ve watched her grow up and into roles like Sunday School teacher and Worship Associate, and to see her negotiating another culture, be shown around by her, and just chat together outside from the context of church and family is like being on a time machine and watching the years whiz by. She’s such an intelligent and independent person–it’s a treat to hang out with her for a while.

And of course, she’s known Mookie since Mookie was a bump in my belly. When I have a long Sunday at church, Mookie often goes over to their house–I call it babysitting and pay J. and her sister, but as far as Mookie’s concerned it’s a playdate at the house with the best climbing tree in the world–and there has never been a time that J. and her family haven’t been in her life. Here the two of them are in the museum courtyard, surrounded by illustrations from children’s books (I never did figure out the stamp connection), and looking uncharacteristically serious.

stamp-museum-2

photo by Joy Morgenstern

 

In my struggles with procrastination, I’ve tried inner appeals to duty and responsibility, organizational systems, you name it. I’ve gotten better over the years but it’s still hard. Then, some months ago, I had an insight that seems to be helping.

I was in a hurry to leave, and grabbed my sneakers out of the closet. I often pull my sneakers off without untying them, a minor but real act of procrastination that means that the next time I wear them, I have to undo the double knots before I can put them on my feet. But this time I found the laces untied and ready to go. It was as if someone had left me a small, thoughtful present. That someone was myself.

When I took my shoes off later that day, I remembered that feeling. I wanted to give a gift to my future self. I’d give her sneakers that were ready to wear. So instead of saving my current self a few seconds by pulling the shoes off still tied, I untied them.

I’ve been remembering this and building it up to more significant acts of just-do-it-now, for lack of a better antonym for procrastination. I dislike the task of putting my clothes away each evening, but my future self is grateful not to have a pile to sort through after ten days. I have a goal of finishing the first draft of three sections of a writing project before the end of the weekend (i.e., tonight); last night, even though I was disinclined to work on it, I did a chunk rather than leave it all for today. The feeling of having received a gift that eases my way is a better motivator than duty or any other I’ve tried.

Have you struggled with procrastinating? What has helped you?

As I shared in a 2013 post, the Unitarian Universalist ritual of Water Communion can be more than a recitation of where people spent their summer vacations, if we give it careful attention. Dozens of comments on that post and responses in other forums have revealed that many congregational leaders are doing just that. Another change we’ve made in our Water Communion in Palo Alto is the timing, and I’m wondering if other congregations have made a similar change.

As in most Unitarian Universalist congregations, our Water Communion service is also our Ingathering service: the official start of the church year. (We have services every Sunday–no “summer off”–but there is still a rhythm to the liturgical year; the circle of the year has a beginning and a closing.) A few years ago, our Minister of Religious Education, Dan Harper, noted that due to changes in the local school districts’ schedules, our church year was no longer in sync with the school year, and proposed that we re-align it. We have done so ever since, and this year’s Water Communion will be August 21, the first Sunday after the beginning of the school year for most of the children in the area.

In most Unitarian Universalist congregations, the church year has long aligned with the academic year. That in itself might reveal an upper-class bias if it were only about post-high-school education. But in U.S. secular life, there are two major beginning-times: January and the start of the school year. Not surprisingly, therefore, these are some of the peak times for visitors to check out a new church.

People move house most often in the summer. Children begin new routines such as extracurricular activities when they settle in to the new school year. If a parent is contemplating introducing a child to religious education, the chances are they think about it in coordination with secular school. So the first few weeks of school are a natural time for church-shopping. In Palo Alto and neighboring towns, that no longer means the week after Labor Day as it once did, but mid-August. Until we made the switch, our church year, including the Sunday School year, began almost a month after the first day of school.

If you have an Ingathering service, is it timed to coincide with the beginning of the church year? Is your Ingathering service a Water Communion Sunday, or are they different days? Do you have an Water Sunday at all?

I was pleased to discover or re-discover a blog by my distinguished predecessor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, Ken Collier. He writes with profundity and clarity about matters from death to the nature of time to whether Donald Trump is fit to be president. I recommend The Colliery highly.

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