Monday, February 20, 2017

"gentle on my mind..."

"It's knowing that your door
is always open, and your path
is free to walk..."

I love this version of John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" by The Band Perry. But it's Glen Campbell's 1967 recording that first caught my heart.

It was 1969 and everything felt at loose ends. Our family had pulled up stakes and moved over 2,000 miles across the country. We were living with relatives while our parents secured housing. I felt so untethered that summer. I was looking for anything I could latch on to, and call my own.

The teenage sons of long-time family friends were kind, respectful, and good. It didn't take long for me to develop a paralyzing crush on the oldest boy. Days were soon filled with tennis, swimming, berry-picking, and playing records in my cousins' basement where we'd talk, and dance, and play cards, while our parents visited upstairs.

I believe, that in his eyes - I was a child. I certainly looked like one. Three years younger, and already very small for my age, I was more like someone he should babysit rather than date. But this didn't stop me from dreaming -- the way young girls do. He was kind, but certainly not interested in dating a little girl.

It must have been obvious to my parents, aunts, uncles, and his parents -- to say nothing of my cousins. If he was coming over I was animated and happy. If he wasn't, I sat by myself on the porch, read Russian novels, and sighed -- a lot.

One day, my very intuitive aunt joined me on the porch. In her hand was a copy of Mary Baker Eddy's small volume, Miscellaneous Writings, 1883 - 1896. At first she didn't even refer to the book she was holding. She simple asked me what was on my mind. And for some reason, I was honest with her. 

 I told her that I was thinking about him.  I admitted how impossible - I knew it was - for us to ever become a couple. Not only was he not interested in dating a little girl, but we were very different. He was an adventurer, a wanderer, someone who saw a horizon and simply had to find out what lay beyond. I, as I told my aunt, was a homebody, a bookworm, someone who sought out small spaces and quiet corners.

My aunt didn't remind me that I was barely old enough to be allowed to stay up late and watch Bonanza -- much less be thinking about my future with a boy who was already shaving and planning a solo road trip to Colorado after college. She spoke with me as if I were a young woman. She addressed -- not the difference in our ages -- but the differences in our dreams.

She reminded me that my dreams were filled with visions of ivy-covered halls at a prestigious university, while his were filled with mountains, rivers, vast open highways, and endless western skies. Without saying much more, she handed me her copy of Miscellaneous Writings, and walked back into the house. Holding it in my hand, I noticed that there was a long slip of soft blue grosgrain ribbon, pressed between two pages. After she left, I opened to where the ribbon had been placed, and found that she'd marked a passage for me to read. It was perfect:

"We should remember that the world is wide;
that there are a thousand million different human wills,
opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person
has a different history, constitution, culture, character,
from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play,
the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other
of these different atoms.

Then, we should go forth into life with the
smallest expectations, but with the largest patience;
with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything
beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial
that the friction of the world shall not wear upon
our sensibilities; with an equanimity so settled that
no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall
agitate or ruffle it; with a charity broad enough
to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough
to neutralize what is bitter in it, — determined
not to be offended when no wrong is meant, nor
even when it is, unless the offense be against God.

Nothing short of our own errors should offend us.
He who can wilfully attempt to injure another,
is an object of pity rather than of resentment;
while it is a question in my mind, whether there is
enough of a flatterer, a fool, or a liar,
to offend a whole-souled woman."

The first thing I felt was "known." I can't tell you why, at 14-going-on-15, I was so moved by this passage, but it touched me deeply.  And, it was perfect. It was grown up and thoughtful. To think that this aunt --who I admired so much for her dignity, compassion, and grace -- would think of me as a "whole-souled woman," gave me something to hold on to. It was the very anchoring I had been seeking.

Almost 50 years later, this passage - in my own copy of Miscellaneous Writings - is always marked with a slip of grosgrain ribbon and marked with blue chalk. It has seen me through arguments with my sister, break-ups, not getting "the job" I'd thought was mine, political disappointments and dissent, as well as  countless opportunities for humility, meekness, and grace.

The boy -- he went on to become an extraordinary young man of substance and adventure. Me -- I still love books, quiet spaces, and the simple things of home, spiritual service, and family. That summer, my aunt helped me let go of the wrong anchor, to find my true grounding in what was enduring, changeless, and beautiful. I will always be grateful.  Each person that comes into our hearts, can forever remain gentle on our minds.

offered with Love,


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