Sunrise People

Sunrise People

In a shore town, teeming with strangers, I walk toward the beach at sunrise, surprised to find that whether–silver-haired, riding rental bikes; or fit and 40 squeezing in a run; or young and tatooed, spitting on the curb outside an apartment building–each, in the hush before the day begins, offers me: Good Morning.

On The Pulse Of Morning
Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
It says come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Maya Angelou

Once Upon an Earth Day Fair

Once Upon an Earth Day Fair

Way back in 1993, my new husband and I volunteered to help create the very first Earth Day Celebration in Cape May County. As a social studies teacher, I’d been incorporating environmental studies into my curriculum for a handful of years, and had recently shaped a collaborative unit with the new science teacher; and as such was poised (and eager!) to expand that consciousness at a larger level.

Just before the event, however, I went into labor, and birthed a miniature baby girl, at the end of the first trimester. I was still able to attend the fair, but was forced to do so from the sterile perch of a beach chair. An early lesson in surrender.

The following weekend was the annual Beach Sweep which I had coordinated on the island since its inception. The turnout was better than ever, and the celebration at Sam’s Pizza afterward a huge success, but photos of me that day reveal a pale and somber young woman.

Sensing the depth of my despair, my husband gave wings to a dream we had long shared. Thus three months later, we left behind the Beach Sweep leadership, the Earth Day committee, our precious students and friends, and our beloved family–including three sets of parents, nine siblings, a dozen aunts and uncles, and countless cousins.

Two sons and a timber-framed home in Vermont followed in the years to come.

Earth Day festivities abound in these Green Mountains, but we quickly learned that our neighbors here had a day to day relationship with the natural world. While recycling and water conservation put us ahead of the curve at the Jersey shore, we had much to learn about the nuances of living in harmony with the earth around us, and we are still learning.

Our sons grew up “on the land,” visiting neighboring farms, and living out their relationship with the earth within our community and beyond–bringing consciousness to state, national and international levels under the guidance of committed educators.

A quarter of a century ago, the Earth Day Fair in New Jersey was, for many, an introduction into simply considering the environment in day to day decisions. Now, it’s more of a punctuation of an evolving relationship with the life-giving force we all call home. What was once Reduce, Reuse and Recycle has matured to include Restore, Replenish and Respect.

This year, it slipped our minds to go to the Earth Day Festivities in town; but we were in our gardens, uncovering signs of spring and looking up to see the geese return to the pond.

The preciousness & fragility of life–human & planet–continue to pulse–inside me–forever shaped by this week in 1993, and by the lives that later grew inside and around me.

May we each find our own way to deepen our relationship with the earth around us, and may this remind us of our response-ability to the life-giving planet with which we have been entrusted.

Happy Earth Day!
Kelly Salasin, April 22, 2013


Think First, Feel Later

Think First, Feel Later

“She’s so calm,”

or better yet,

“How is she so calm?”

or even more telling:

“WHY is she so calm?”

This is what I overhear in times of crisis–Like when the wedding guest passed out while I was singing; or when I was wheeled into the hospital for an emergency c-section; or even more recently, on the first day of this vacation, when my teenage son dove into the pond and came out bleeding.

(But not last night.)

If I’m asked, “How are you so calm?” I might explain that I grew up in a doctor’s family where emergencies presented themselves on our doorstep, and where I was often enlisted by my father to open bandages, or needles or stitches. Thus, I was trained to “think” before I could let myself “feel” which served me well in a life filled with crisis.

(But last night was different; and I’m not sure why.)

It had been our first day at the Jersey shore, and I had just finished a lovely dinner with my two best friends from highschool. My husband picked me up at the restaurant and we headed back to the condo where we were staying–alone, while the kids spent the night with grandma.

Before we crawled into bed, I checked email, just in case someone in the family needed to connect around plans for the following day. To my shock, I discovered a text from my friend who I had just left:

“I was just in major accident on 25th & Atlantic.”

My husband and I dashed back out the door and jumped into the car. The drive down this 5 mile island seemed to take forever. We knew how to serpentine through the town to avoid most of the lights, but there was no avoiding the tourists who made traffic unbearable on a good day.

There were two lights we had to wait out as we approached 25th street; and then there was the scene up ahead: flashing lights, firetrucks, ambulances, police. We had to park two blocks away because the roads were closed down in every direction.

I ran ahead in the dark in my sundress and flip flops while my husband locked up the car. I stopped the first policeman that crossed my path, and said, “I’m looking for my friend. She was in this accident.”

Ahead I saw her car, slammed into a set of pilings outside a family restaurant. Beside that, on its side, was a white SUV, with booster seats scattered around it.

“Is she still in the car?” I asked, but the policeman shook his head and pointed to a bench.  As I crossed the street, I could see that her airbag had deployed and that her front end had been completely crushed by the impact.

As she came into view, I cried out her name, and I ran to enfold one of my favorite people in the world in the certainty of my arms.

“There were little kids,” Lou Ann mumbled. “They were screaming. They couldn’t get out of the car.”

Just then, a police man approached us with a car seat in his hand. “Did this come from your vehicle?” he asked.

Lou stared at him blankly so I answered for her, “She doesn’t have little kids anymore. She was alone in her car.”

“That’s not mine,” Lou finally said, and then added: “Why did that woman run that stop sign? There were so many kids.”

The officer reminded Lou Ann that everyone was fine. “They’ve gone to the hospital, but they were all conscious,” he told us.

Moments later my husband joined us on the bench, and I began to tremble. I shook so violently beside Lou that I had to let my arm drop from around her shoulders.

(This is her crisis not yours, I chided myself, but my body refused to listen.)

When Lou’s husband arrived, I leaned into my own husband’s arms, and asked him, “Will you go ask the EMT’s to check Lou. She has a cut on her forearm and it’s swelling.”

Lou said that she was fine and that she didn’t need to be checked, but I insisted. In the back of the ambulance, we discovered that she had welts on her chest too.  “I’m just worried about those children,” she repeated.  I asked the EMT to wrap the ice around her arm so that it would stay put on her drive home.

Just an hour earlier we were full of smiles, leaving a restaurant, and now we were hopping out of an ambulance in the middle of what should have been a busy road.

We hugged one last time and shared “I love yous” before Lou climbed into her husband’s truck. Casey put his arm around me as we walked passed the accident scene and watched the police lift the street sign back in place. They remarked on how close she had come to the telephone pole.

The night was dark, and I felt strangely empty. I wanted to keep on eye on Lou, check her injuries, bring her soup, talk to her some more, but she lived a half an hour away, and she needed her own family.

I had felt this same empty feeling this past Saturday after my son’s diving accident, when they wheeled him into radiology for a Cat Scan, and told me to wait outside.

It was the same in the procedure room, when he resisted the offering of my hand while the doctor put 16 stitches in his head.

What am I supposed to do? I wondered then–and now.  How do I love people who don’t belong to me anymore?

(And what’s up with this “vacation”?)

It was another vacation, during another summer, when a car accident took my grandmother’s life. Maybe that’s why this particular crisis had me “feeling” before I was finished “thinking.”

Over dinner, I shared with Loud what had only just occurred to me: Three of the most special people to me in the world  had names that began with ‘L’ :   my Nana Lila, my friend Lou Ann, and my son Lloyd.

“My three ‘L’s” I smiled proudly.

This morning, I am extra grateful that two of them are fine.

Kelly Salasin, August 2011, the Jersey Shore

my familiar

my familiar

Weddings and funerals bring me back to my familiar. The Mid-Atlantic. The home of my people.

I sit in the quiet church where my best friends were both married, and watch as new faces replace us. A generation of nieces and nephews come of age, gathering to say goodbye to their grandma, the mother of my dear friend, Lou.

I feel the wheel turning, and notice an elder woman sitting in a pew off to the side. Will that be one of us some day?

I like funerals. I like the ritual of tending the passing of a loved one. And even though I’m not a Catholic, my days in parochial schools make the swinging of the thurible above the coffin a warm familiar, as I take in the smell of  incense.

The deceased apparently liked funerals too. Once she lost her faculties. “We had to stop taking Mom to funerals,” Lou tells me. “She thought they were parties.”

I gulp, wondering about my own affinity.  Despite the loss, I am filled with joy to see so many dearly familiar faces from my past; since grief is something I don’t typically share in public.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Mrs. O, and so I don’t.  I keep her here, in my heart, welcoming me into her home –from 14 to 47 and beyond.

I have to admit that I am a little disappointed to find that I wasn’t the only one who was so warmly received. Apparently Mrs. O. was a second Mom to many more than me.

She forgot how to do everything,” my friend says  “How to get to get dressed; how to eat. But every time she saw me, she told me that I was perfect.

She forget how to do everything… except how to love.”

What a legacy. To loose everything, but your ability to love. 

My eyes turn from the altar to the pews where the grandchildren weep with loss.

What a testimony of her love, and of the family she nurtured.

I’ve watched this family love for over 30 years–through their guilt and worry and attachment–never failing to be in awe of their undying devotion.

My friend is the most devoted daughter, sister and mother that I know; and even on this day of burying her mother, she tends to the grief of others. She remains strong. She returns to her kindergarteners the next morning.

I have been infinitely blessed by this friendship.

When her brother steps up to the altar to read the intercessions, I am delighted by how fully Italian he is, and then tickled when his thick New York accent delivers an Irish poem,

May the road rise to meet ya. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

My hometown holds me in the palm of its hand this weekend. I drive by the ocean and the marsh and the homes where my family once lived. I soak up time with my sister and her children. I sit beside my father and let his leg brush mine. I hug my stepmother, pet my canine step-sister.  This is enough, I think.  (Once I needed so much more.)

I gobble up boardwalk pizza and Italian hoagies. I sniff the salt air. I visit with my in-laws. I unearth memories. I sense the absence of my mother like a shard of glass through my heart.

I look up at the beautiful stain glass art of the Gospel and wonder why they don’t make the floors more captivating. How are we to keep our heads bowed when there is so much color above?

I notice that a nun in street clothes has replaced the altar boys beside the priest.  I wonder if this is due to school (it’s a weekday) or scandal?  As the elderly priest raises the Communion above his head, there is an almost imperceptible shutter at the presence of a woman on the stage which has long belonged to men.

I notice how much of the language of these familiar rites, excludes: “Those who believe…” and “He who follows in the name of the Lord...” and “We of the faith…”

I make a mental note to be sure my own funeral is inclusive, even of those who feel it necessary to separate. I realize that this will be tricky.

When it comes time to stand up for the bread and the wine, the separation is clearer. Those who remain in the pews have either missed confession–or worse–don’t belong.  Even the name-tagged attendants from the funeral parlor bow their heads for the Body of Christ, making me wonder if “Catholicism” is a requirement of the job.

25 years ago, when I sat through the weekly Masses at Wildwood Catholic, I could hardly bear the length of it; but approaching 50, I know what a gift it is to sit and ponder.

And so, I take in the Homily, word for word, while opening myself up to all that is connected. Father talks of the inability of the disciples to recognize Jesus after He is risen. He contrasts their limited view with that of the women who were the first to speak of the Resurrection. (Outside, a car horn punctuates the gift of feminine receptivity.)

He reminds us that we must embrace suffering, just as Mary stood at the foot of her son’s cross. (And the church bells ring, marking the top of the hour–and the gift of this mother’s devotion.)

This was the inspiration for Geri’s life,” the priest says, and I have no doubt it is true of Mrs. O.

My own loss is comforted when we are prompted to come to our knees on the familiar cushioned benches beneath each pew. For awhile I thought perhaps the Catholics had given up on the kneeling which once accompanied the standing and the sitting and the standing again.

I notice that the nun is the one who models what it is we are supposed to do–when we are to stand, to bow our heads, to kneel down.  (Once this next generations passes, I wonder who will be left to guide us.)

I decide to have recycling at my own funeral, and even compost. I make a mental note to request potted plants so that there will be less waste.  The lillies wrapped in pink foil at the foot of the altar are beautiful.

These reveries are disrupted when the priest tells us that it is time to “take our leave” of Geri.

I don’t know how Lou will do it. I don’t know how we got to be the grownups–burying our parents–whose lives in ours we once took for granted.

We proceed out of the church silent.

I watch my friend walk ahead, alongside her father, toward the limo at the head of the funeral procession, slipping her hand inside his.

Tears slide down my face, as I walk toward my own car with the Green Mountain tags and head “home.”

Kelly Salasin, May 2011

Me & “my familiars”, 2009.