on oneness and being

For a short while last night, trapped between sleep and waking, I could not remember where I was, and for a few moments I also could not remember who I was. From there I fell into a series of fast, detailed dreams about being back in school—all grades simultaneously, from first through graduate alike—and passing by in-crowds of each with every person in them still signaling in all the ways common to such gangs that I did not—and would not ever—belong there.

So this is what it feels like to return to myself, I thought, deeply unsettled but unafraid. To stand on the foundation of my being sans identity. There was an inexplicable emptying of the busy, frantic world, an opening up on spaces of wonder unmet heretofore, and I felt the pace of my own stranger soul being honored. And trusted. And, too, for the first time ever and without effort or forethought or planning on my part? Known.

And then the small dog who has kept steady company alongside me these last eight years shifted, roused, and raised his head to check on my wellbeing, and I instantly remembered—first, where I was, and next, who I was, and then the familiar settled back in as a warm blanket swathes a chilled body on a cold night far from home.

Hours on, I awoke to a sunlit morning feeling more refreshed than I can remember ever having done. A deep sense of being only a being still abides, even now, far from sleep, and I have an unshakeable knowing of an essence always present in my self, but never before encountered in quite so literal a manner. The emptying remains. I cannot describe in words how comforting this is. There is a whole universe that partakes not of our hope|fear-entangled selves, and we do not exist merely in or of it: we are it. The one of all that is.



on happy, no matter what

Amidst a slew of news and happenings over the last week (four of which qualify for the crazy-bad category and four more which simply cannot fit anywhere but in the crazy-good sector)? I look around every day to find myself teary-eyed joyful and teary-eyed sad, usually at precisely the same time (no sequencing afoot) and guess what: I am happy. Period. No matter what.

Fascinating, that. Happiness was never all that big a goal of mine. Since childhood, I’ve always been a lot more focused on the thing I was trying to learn right then. I suppose I went about my first three decades figuring happiness itself to be an odd duck and unhappy if pursued by anyone, but especially me—not at all equipped with duck-hunting genes. About ten years ago, that laissez-faire attitude morphed into near desperation to make a contribution before I die, to do something that would make a good difference for somebody else, to lay myself out and use myself totally, completely up in service to something besides my own personal desires or needs. It became an obsession almost, with every single decision run through the hopper of valuable contribution or no? And it fueled long hours of work toward a path sure to let me do that . . . which turned out to dead-end in a carbon steel-mortared brick wall.

Only having hit it full force, and then having taken a few steps back and knuckleheaded it again at high speed (three of the crazy-bad happenings of the last week forming said wall)? Only then did I raise my weary head and lay one beady eye on forever and erupt in happy laughter at it all. It was as if a great old soul was standing next to me and said, “hannah, when will you ever accept that you do NOT belong in these lines of endeavor?!! Seriously, dear, do we need to break your nose or something next time?!”

And I laughed, and still am laughing today, as miracles and nightmares keep erupting all over, and much of what I thought was solid disappears while stronger firma terra materializes all about and without my least assistance. And in such a space I know that the crazy-bads are honestly not a whit different from the crazy-goods, because when you come down to the puppy’s nubbin on things, I am just a little human being in a great big world. For however long I am breathing, I shall breathe and be to the best or worst of my abilities in that moment, and the second I do not? I know not a smidgen of what comes next. One thing I know for sure: Hell’s already my friend, because love—unconditional, wide hearted, and unceasing—leaches even the worst crazy-bad times of their furies and has proven to me, over and over and over again already, that every hell carries heaven in its innermost heart. So I am happy. Period. No matter what.



on miracles and goodness welling up all over

Someone I had never met before gave me a gift this week—noticing something with which I have long struggled, an expensive need for which all my efforts and funds have not yet sufficed. He offered his skill and resources and kindness, clearing time on a busy schedule and providing the services I have been unable to procure on my own, and then refused utterly my attempts to recompense him for any of that—stunning me into silence and teary-eyed wonder ever since (and long ahead, without question, for I shall carry this one to my grave). What a miracle! I thought, in one long pause and many since, and then I noticed something lovely taking place. All my worries and angst over every little other thing fell gently aside, like snowflakes finding lower branches on a mountainside of wonder. Over and over, the thrill of this gift and ones before and the ones before those going back to infinity have patiently lined up for my attention. No one has to be kind to another being ever. When it happens, it is a miracle.

When I sat down to compose my thoughts for a thank you and this post, though, I realized yet again—for the nth time compelled by more evidence thusward—that I have for years lived in a space of goodness welling up all over. Even in my darkest hours, I have stumbled into grace repeatedly. It has always been easier for me to give than receive, yes, and I have often struggled alone and feeling friendless at least in part because I did not know how to do anything else, but receiving brings deeper humility and a nearly unbearable lightness of being. In the hard edges of now—what with inequalities deepening on every hand and economies no longer reliably offering even the hardest and best-trained workers a steady living and feeling personally assailed thus far too often—it is easy to feel weary and to doubt whether there will ever be a level playing field again. Or simply a field.

And then someone comes along and notices a need and reaches out and, if the shame of having needed anything can be set aside even for a few moments? I walk in grace for good. Knowing not just to bone but to marrow of soul that I belong to all that is.

In the last month I have had the extraordinary good fortune to have enjoyed the hospitalities of three dear friends and one former stranger. Food and lodgings shared, places to work in peace and beauty  (first a historic schoolhouse and then a historic house, both of which make my whole being sing with wild joy just for existing!) while I wrestle a gut-wrenching set of stories to the page, time to be in company and alone, conversations on our lives and concerns and hopes: these came to me from three friends who helped to make this month of research and writing possible. Without their assistance, none of it would’ve happened, for on my own I would’ve fallen far short of the resources required. And then came the stranger, who helped with not just a tooth, but a slew and the associated, unresolved issues with them, relieving me so much that the pain of said mouth no longer makes the least impression. And then he spoke of providing dental care on missions for people who otherwise would have none, and I realized yet again—for the umpteenth time and then some—that the ‘haves’ in this society are often just like the ‘have nots’ in this one thing that so many of us share. And I came home and found a way to give a little bit of my resources to someone in the fight of his and his community’s life, facing down ebola half a world away from me and with me having not a single usable skill for that fight? And I remembered, from this month to forever.

What I keep finding is that nearly everyone I meet is looking for a way to help, to render assistance, to make things better, to lighten another’s load. No matter how small our offerings might be sometimes, we still find our ways to contribute, to extend the resources we have been given to those who have greater need. If I had to make a list of all who have helped me here? I could not finish, were I given another whole lifetime and no other tasks to fulfill. So the good that comes to me, as ever, I will appreciate for good, turning back every thing I can lay my hands on to keep such grace moving in the world. Widening our connections, our senses of belonging to each other and to all that is: our little lives steady miracles that feed these deep springs of goodness welling up all over: willing at last to receive as well as to give, for it is in both that we find ourselves one.


With special thanks to Randy Burba, John Neely, Christine Sullivan, and Beth Hahn—for every last thing.

And with a prayer for healing to all who are presently assailed.


on what must be said of Salem, Mass.

I adore the people of Salem, Massachusetts. Flat out adore them. I have been coming to this town via library ships since 1995 and via plane or automobile since 2006—thanks to the generous hospitality of dear friends who call Salem home, plus one signal institution that began as a project of the East India Society in 1799, the PEM (Peabody Essex Museum). Technically (and actually), Salem is a city, but it shall ever remain a seafaring and thus global ‘town’ in my history-hobbled heart. I am writing a great deal more about the people of Salem and Essex County in a book project now, because they created the ship on which much of my historical research is centered (US Frigate ESSEX), but for today I just have to say this one thing to something besides my fieldnotes:

The people of Salem are signally friendly and welcoming, curious and happy to converse (and not simply in superficial ways), and they approach the world in a wide-armed and congenial manner that makes of even the rankest stranger—irrespective of social class or ethnicity or profession or religion or nationality or quirks of personality—a neighbor and friend. Working people here run the gamut from the very wealthy to the very not, and fine neighborhoods are still dotted—deliberately so—with more affordable housing, so that, on even the least errand you meet folks from all walks of life, nearly all of whom make eye contact and exchange genial greetings and sometimes long talks. This kind of stance is a downright rarity in these united states at this point in time (or ever), so it deserves mention. Notice. Emulation, to at least some extent.

I treasure each one of the days I have been privileged to spend in Salem. For a southern Mississippi farm girl raised far from the sea but born into a small community called Friendship, I have found myself at home in Salem in unexpected ways. These people’s nows are rooted in their long past of plying trade routes across the world’s oceans, and it shows, for they have made of diversity this community’s life-blood. We could use more Salems—of this particular ilk—in our world.

The Friendship of Salem

The Friendship of Salem, dockside     October 2014


on this morning

Up all night and still ‘overslept’: what a great way to start this day!! And it’s autumn,too,  with everything dying bar none (even me) and the leaves turning to bright hues as they shiver and fall to the damp ground, and not one thing could possibly make me feel more alive and glad to be here. Glad for it all. Every last jot. And feeling keenly how fortunate I am to be alive and unassailed—in all the ways that most wreck a being’s time here—on this morning. No, nothing’s ‘fixed’ in my problems or struggles; nothing’s dropped off my To-Do lists or worries; nothing’s flipped a switch so I am no longer aware of suffering, be it my own or another’s. But I exist in all-out wonder today that I made it to 55 and am still standing enough to go for a walk with my oldest little dog in these gorgeous dying, and soon to be decaying leaves.

The one thing I wish for today is that I could somehow give these deep feelings of wonder and joy to every soul on this planet in real-time. Spirits entwined for as long as we all could stand it and then some? What a world we could all make if we could just feel each other’s joys and sufferings for the single split second it would take to know ourselves as One, bar none ever, all simply being while here.