Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Update from Upstate


Rumor has it that winter does not actually last all year in upstate New York, but I am not yet convinced. The ground has been covered in snow and/or ice since late November. Even with a few days in the 40s and lots of recent rain, there are still mounds of ugly muddy ice in our back yard and along the easement between the sidewalks and roadway.

Yesterday Bill and I went to check on our sailboat in “dry storage” at the Great Sacandaga Lake, just 30 miles north. The snow is piled even higher! Dozens of boats nestle together on the shore like schooling fish, each one draped in tarps or custom made canvass covers; a few in dazzling white shrink-wrap. Snow mounds on top of them and between in peaks like tiny Everests. The sunmelt creates deep holes where the deck drains exit the hulls. Buckminster Fuller (Bucky), our new dog, revels in the snow, wriggling around on it the way our farm dogs used to roll in the carcass of a dead armadillo. In his enthusiasm Bucky drags me through the mountains of snow forcing me to step into mounds higher than my boot tops, taking on slushy wetness. After falling to my knees, I decide that though he’s terrible on-leash, he is well-enough trained to come when we call, so I release the leash. In a flash he’s beyond our reach traversing huge drifts we could never navigate on foot—and then he’s on the frozen lake, but the lake is melting at the edges and is too thin to support him. We call his name encouraging him to shore but he chooses the most dangerous path and is soon crashing through the ice and then pulling himself up and crashing through again. I think of the polar bears drowning at sea due to human arrogance. I think of our last dog, Petey, dying in our arms just before Thanksgiving after darting in front of a car. I think I am the stupidest human companion a dog could have. I should have noticed the thin ice edges and should have known he’d be compelled to run. We call his name to encourage him and scream for him to come to us. I think I should jump in to pull him to safety, but quickly enough I realize that’s not wise either. He makes it to shore, shakes the water from his coat and shivers his way back to the car on-leash again while we trudge along in stunned silence. I try not to think about an alternate ending to the little drama at the lakeside and feel tremendous gratitude for the feisty attitude Bucky brings to each moment. Because we were planning to do it anyway, we shop at Target later to buy Bucky a pad for his crate but we also buy several new toys and a much more elegant, lofty bed than we would have purchased before “the lake incident.” Neither Bill nor I talk about our fears, grief over the loss of Petey being still tender and raw. But the charge card total tells the story: guilt money.

I stay away from the Unitarian Universalist milieu except that I preached a couple of times in December. Before Christmas a colleague invited me to her church on Long Island but I showed up at the wrong place, eventually arriving at the correct location just in time to deliver the sermon. What sweet and patient congregation and minister they were! Then after Xmas another colleague accepted my solicitation of an offer to preach at his church in Carbondale, IL. Nathan, our 23 year-old, lives in Carbondale right now, so I figured I’d make an excuse to visit him. It was good to touch base with an old buddy from seminary and to see where our kid lives. (He still has the messiest bedroom I can imagine!) The added bonus to that trip: a visit to the actual honest-to-goodness geodesic dome R. Buckminster Fuller built and inhabited while teaching at Southern Illinois University. Boards are rotting and the fence is leaning over, the whole house is encased by a second dome of plastic sheeting to keep the weather at bay, but for my money, the visit was better than seeing the Sistene Chapel or the Taj Mahal!
I made one trip to DC last fall for anti-war mobilization and saw Huti Reynolds there! There is a lovely small peace group here called Schenectady Neighbors for Peace, part of Peace Action. They create unique demonstrations and hold regular vigils, but as many of you can imagine, I prefer institutional peace-making. At a recent planning meeting I floated the idea of a Peace House, which generated some interest. We’ll be looking into the possibilities.

After months of searching for a job in social work or chaplaincy and finding nothing promising, I recently accepted an entry-level position (I have three more college degrees than the job requires) as an advocate for domestic violence victims with the YWCA. It is good work to be doing despite earning the lowest income of my entire work history- in constant dollars, less then I made straight out of HS. The YWCA is only two blocks from our house and has been an important community presence since the 1930s when single women were entering the workforce at GE and American Locomotive in great numbers. They still provide SRO rooms at very low cost to women in need, as well as providing a wide range of community services. Last fall the YWCA tried to garner neighborhood support to use one of their buildings to house a cutting-edge prison deferral program for women nonviolent offenders with children. Concerned neighbors began producing angry fliers and letters to the editor condemning the idea of female “convicts” living among our historic homes. I spoke in favor of the program at a public hearing and was quoted (accurately!) in the local paper. (Maybe that’s why the YW hired me to work for them?) Unfortunately the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to refuse the occupancy permit needed.

We joined a CSA again (community supported agriculture) to practice living on local food, continue to explore alternative energy options for heating and powering our drafty old house, joined the Neighborhood Watch to take a bite outta crime and the neighborhood association to learn about and protect the intriguing history of our area. We have season tickets for the 260- seat Schenectady Civic Players in the neighborhood (housed in an old Masonic Temple) and can walk to a Broadway level theater and a multiplex.

AND politics in NY has suddenly become quite lively now that we found out our governor Eliot “Mr. Clean” “Eliot Ness” “The Sheriff of Wall Street” Spitzer had a zipper problem. But hey! in the morning we will inaugurate the fourth black governor in these United States and perhaps the first blind person to rise to such a high office. I’m actually looking forward to the fall general election but crave a respite from the mud-slinging Democratic Primary. It is almost enough to make me think about voting for Nader again. Just kidding.

Peace, love, abiding friendship,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How to reach me directly

To send me a personal email, you can use the comment feature of the blog to reply to any post. None of the comments you write get automatically posted to the blog--I moderate them first and decide if the comment can get posted (read back into the archives if you are curious about why this is necessary). If you would like a direct reply to your comment, include YOUR email address, snail mail address, or phone number in the body of the the comment you write and I will correspond with you that way.

I hope I'll hear from more readers!


A Favorite Rabindranath Tagore Poem for Sheryl

And if this isn't the poem you were looking for...let me know.
I hope the wedding (and the marriage) is a dream come true, enjoy!

It is for the union of you and me
that there is light in the sky.
It is for the union of you and me
that the earth is decked in dusky green.

It is for the union of you and me
that night sits motionless with the world in her arms;
dawn appears opening the eastern door
with sweet murmurs in her voice.

The boat of hope sails along on the currents of
eternity towards that union,
flowers of the ages are being gathered together
for its welcoming ritual.

It is for the union of you and mc
that this heart of mine, in the garb of a bride,
has proceeded from birth to birth
upon the surface of this ever-turning world
to choose the Beloved.