Wonder

Weather anyplace is unpredictable. Having lived in several states I think at some point, because of the hot, cold, wet, ice, whatever somebody’s inevitably said “Don’t like the weather here? Wait a minute…”

That’s true anywhere. So crystal clear fall and wintry days are a gift! Terrier-mix rescue dog Lulu is bouncing back, slowly, and relishing her walks again. Not long ones, but she lets me know how much. So this afternoon while she and husky-mix rescue dog Lily were napping I took myself out for a long walk. Icy air and a breeze with an edge but the sun soaked into my sweater. The park where my dogs and I walk has a path around it little over a mile. So I walked to this park and through part of it on the path to the other side to finish my walk home.

Most people I met on the way were walking their dogs, or jogging, or ambling slowly with a friend. But each person, as they looked up their entire faces opened like sun shining through clouds when they smiled.

Maybe just an acknowledging smile, or a smile and a nod. But whatever occupied their thoughts for that moment evaporated like a morning fog and a smile shone through.

I guess it’s just a wonder to me that total strangers can have a momentary connection, a warmth shared. Some faces lifted already smiling. Others mildly surprised to see someone there, others with determined concern. But every one relaxed into the kindness of a smile.

To me it is a wonder those connections happen no matter where I’ve lived. It’s a wonder that everywhere I look I hear and see bombardments telling me and everybody else life has to be exciting, a constant party. I once fell for all that. Over-involved and it was never enough. And the more there was the less fulfilling.

I think it’s the same wit h overcommitment to anything. Work, volunteering, neighborhoods. It is flattering to some to be asked to do things but there is a limit. It can’t be all or nothing. And people will take advantage without realizing or even if they do, thinking they are doing you a favor. It is not hard to say no, and it is essential sometimes. And sometimes you realize you should have said no after you agree to do something.

For me life changes too quickly to become overcommitted. What a burden! No wonder. Pedestrian. Pedantic, as my dad would say.

So I am going to see what it is like wandering around dragging some encumbrances, I’ll call them. No idea whether I can contribute or not. Not flattered, either. I’m going to smile about it though.

When just one smile, I can see a wonder.

soleil-decoratif-1-1509044399gxl.jpg

Advertisements

Surprises out of not

My son was here last weekend for a pre-planned visit. Well I say pre-planned but his planning is generally only a week or two out from his date of travel unless he goes someplace for work. I was grateful to see him and for once there were no heated arguments or harsh words.

Nor should there be. He is in his 30s. On his own since college. We need to be able to get along. However, he has had a living-together arrangement for about 5 years now and I seem to irritate him often since this began. If I ask about what she does. If I comment on how much he eats at restaurants or on the run. If I ask about his exercising. This time was the best so far and as my dad would advise me, “it takes two to make a fight”.  So I stayed calm, did not ask questions on incendiary issues. Seemed to work out ok.

I think this is easier said than done. Dysfunction existed since before therapists made it so popular in the 80s when everyone appeared to not only have a therapist but talked profusely about it. Yet this is a catch-all word and I think diminishes that which it means to expose. The fact that even though everyone is different, even though each of us has (and is entitled to) opinions of our own, somehow hostility, anger, condemnation creep in and before long there’s an explosion, hurt feelings, blaming, misunderstandings that have become barbed wire walls near impossible to get through.

Some of this comes from historic feelings. Relationships that have “buttons” that are activated by a gesture, facial expression, or certain words. And most are imagined or inflamed by our feelings, then clung to like life preservers. Like the flip side of happy memories, these are the nightmares we often gloss over, push to the recesses of our minds or somehow justify hoping they won’t come back and haunt us.

road-closed-detour-sign-600x450.jpg

But they do. I remember in the early 80s when my divorce was just over. I anesthetized those feelings rather than work through them. I mired myself in work, avoiding the personas I had now become: divorced single woman and parent. I could not bring myself to face this alone, which was what I was. Rather than ask God’s help, find a good church where supportive people usually abound I stuck it out on my own and made things much worse with many many mistakes. So like Charles Dickens’ Marley I forged a few chains that I persisted in dragging around rather than try to find the key which would unlock them and free my life from them and their accompanying false guilt and self-imposed perpetuated humiliations.

I am not at all intending to say this would negate the facts: I am still today a single, divorced parent. But through these thirty-plus years, so many mistakes, tears, temper tantrums, epiphanies, set-backs, understandings, disillusionments,  clarifications and owning up to it all by taking responsibility I have survived myself, my vain, futile efforts to struggle and overcome myself on my own only to find it works better when I ask for help. Not just other people’s help. I have found through all the difficult times, hating myself for yet again another hangover, or wondering whether I could make the mortgage payment, have enough to pay household bills and buy groceries, pay for medical bills, eye doctors, vet bills and dentists, there was always enough. Never to where I became complacent, but enough to where I learned to be humble, grateful and generous when I could be. More depth of understanding and compassion because I had been there. And got out of wherever was potentially harmful or self-defeating.

werk-aan-de-weg.jpg

And overwhelmed that, through it all, the darkness and the joys, no matter how hard I tried to avoid Him, God was the One giving me this strength, provision, encouragement. Turning to Him did not diminish me. On the contrary, like the prodigal son I truly was welcomed, freed from self-hatred and deprecation, loved, forgiven and cleansed. Don’t get me wrong, I still stumble, sometimes even go flat on my face or my rear, but I can pick myself up, tell Him, and ask Him for forgiveness, restoration, guidance.

I will never have arrived, at least not in this life. No one ever does no matter how much we have, achieve, learn or become. Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Rev. Billy Graham saw this on a road construction sign and had it inscribed on her gravestone:

“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

So however many days I am given in this life it may seem sometimes that I’m being hit with a jack-hammer, or covered in rough gravel, or bathed in hot tar, or steam-rolled to perfect smooth flatness then painted with boundary lines from trial-and-error efforts at how to be and in all this process obstructing or slowing other traffic. I will be continually learning, growing, struggling, changing, hoping, aspiring like all of us will. As long as we are living this is what we do. Sometimes I’ll be mired in darkness deep in a valley, or standing on a sun-soaked mountaintop. But I pray wherever I find myself I keep Christmas in my heart.

May God grant each of us grace and humility, peace and strength, and love to carry us through. In Jesus, Amen.

road-13813455026q6.jpg

Lulu

So when my special-needs rescue dog Murphy died I really thought rescue-mix husky Lily would recover. Eventually. After about 2 years we even moved 4 hours away but she kept looking for him. So when we were at the pet store to buy food and treats I stopped in front of a little black and white dog in a crate at an adopt-a-thon.

Lulu.

She sure looked an awful lot like Murphy. So we got permission to foster her. She and Lily got on well, so we adopted her. A few weeks later she scared the lights out of me looking for all the world like she was having a seizure. But she didn’t convulse, she didn’t lose consciousness. I did not believe it actually was a seizure. Her vet disagreed. So I got a second opinion. The next vet suggested a back muscle spasm. He took an x-ray and did not see an evident problem.

Things went along fine until 5 months later when she had another one. The vet gave a prescription for a sedative in case they really were seizures and same guarded prognosis.

Just before Thanksgiving this year we were walking and a little girl asked to pet Lulu. I said yes and her mother asked a question. As I spoke to her Lulu yelped. She seemed ok, we finished our walk. But then Lulu started yelping at strange things. She yelped if Lily came too close, if she jumped down from a chair, if I picked her up, so we went back to her vet. More x-rays, blood work, maybe a ct scan they said. Next day they said the blood work was fine but she has an anomaly in her back. Right where her tail joins her spine. So more prescriptions and special food.

I looked this medicine up: it is a pain blocker. Ok, so she can’t feel pain but shouldn’t we be working on the thing that causes the pain? Or an anti-inflammatory medicine to help the pain without disguising it?

And what about this “anomaly”. Has she always had it (she was several years old when I adopted her), and if she has did it just get worse? Will it go away? Is it the disc or the vertebra? Is this a thing she was born with or did it happen some other way?

Picture1202171548_1.jpg

Lulu feeling better chewing a salmon treat

What is it about phone conversations? I thought of none of my concerns until I’d hung up. I know vets are busy and it’s hard enough to get them on the phone the first time. So I will wait with all my questions until Monday when he said to call and give an update.

So she has made progress. She is not yelping anymore, even growls at Lily again which is a good thing (Lily can take it). She can go down steps but has some trouble going back up. She has not lost interest in her food or her toys. But it is not easy just hanging around the house. She loves her walks and Lily really needs to get out, being a large dog. Chasing the squirrels in the backyard is ok but only takes a few seconds. They both love their long walks at the nature preserve (a couple of miles) or nearby parks.

But the vet has said she can’t have any real walks for about a week, no matter how good she feels. I have tried a couple of times, we walked in the neighborhood and got to about 100 yards from the door and stopped. Lulu gave me an “uh oh” look. So I carried her back home. We are learning our limitations, but I know she really hopes this doesn’t last forever.

We both hope.Picture1202171556_1.jpg

 

compassion

So when my brother and I were in high school, he at a boys’ school, I at a girls, we each had similar but different tastes in music. I went for some Rolling Stones, Doors, Led Zeppelin, both of us Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers, but he had some interests that appealed to me as well… Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull…

“Aqualung”

“Feeling alone, the army’s up the road, salvation a-la-mode and a cup of tea. Aqualung, my friend, don’t you start away uneasy. You poor old sot, you see, it’s only me…. “

We were not hard rockers at all but we did enjoy some of everything. Among of my favorite classical pieces were Dvorjak’s “New World Symphony”, or Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.

About 20 years ago my dad made a gift to me one summer to study at Oxford University. This was a fascinating little town, not just for its ancient history but the people. Nowhere else have I ever felt more separated from a people who basically speak the same language.

Up early one Sunday morning I walked to a nearby pastry shop for some coffee. On my way there I passed a homeless gentleman swathed in tattered blankets against the lee wall of a brick building just wakening to the sun’s early rays. It was first of June, warmer now and I gently stepped around so as not to startle him.

I bought 2 coffees at the shop, and a small pastry for myself. I added a much larger “pasty”, something like a big kolache, and headed out.

Sitting fully upright now he was awake and I slowed as I neared him, he suspiciously eyeing me with puffy slits for eyes, a toothless mouth slightly agape.

I slowly bent down to hand him my offering.

“I cahn’t drink milk!” he exclaimed.

“It’s coffee,” I replied, softly.

He took the nourishment, tucking them protectively to himself and I wandered on.

Two days ago I stopped in to the grocery store for a couple of items, and added canned goods, some peanut butter for the food pantry box by the door. As I left the store a man on an electric cart rushed me. “Can you spare some change for a sick veteran?”

Surprised I lost the presence of mind to go back into the store and purchase him some food. No idea whether he was either a veteran or sick. He reeked of cigarettes and squinted at me with bleary, bloodshot eyes. So I pulled out a bill and before handing it to him launched into a lecture the likes of which I’d no idea where it came from:

” Ok,” I said, “you are going to set this on fire, aren’t you?” He looked thoroughly confused, shaking his head no as I forged on:

“You will burn this up  by using it to buy cigarettes! I worked hard for this and if I give it to you you’ll just burn it up, won’t you?!”

Still shaking his head he said, “Doctors told me I have 6 months to live, I can’t eat pork, I know I shouldn’t smoke… ” his voice wavered and broke as it faded in futility.

So at this point I’d no choice but to give him something. You see, he could be telling me anything but I engaged in this ridiculous argument with him probably because I knew I should do something and this wasn’t it, but what I needed to do –buy food for him– was not forthcoming. So I handed him the bill and said, “I love you.” After my scathing remarks it was all I could think of. He asked for a hug and I leaned over and carefully circled his frail shoulders asking God to bless him.

How does God bless someone who doesn’t know what that means? Or has so long forgotten kindness and comfort there is nothing left and hope’s ray has turned inward to a bleak heart?

So, my Aqualung, whether you are in Oxford, U.K. or the suburbs of my little coastal town, know you are loved if not by the likes of pitiful me then by the likes of a Power greater than this universe Who loves us all. I pray for the clarity that however I use His resources it is because of His love.

God Bless You.

Picture1123171334_1.jpg

 

Aqualung, Jethro Tull. Island Studios, 1971

Wind

Fall is pretty short-lived over here. Summer malingers squeezing the last bit of humidity into our lungs, then a brief spell of cool, drier days and pretty leaves.

The wind blew all night last night, and is still blowing. It’s warmer, spatterings of rain showers. So this signals the beginning of what we know as winter here in coastal NC. Not too cold, not very long, snowfalls that don’t stick around for more than a few hours, if that.

I love the wind. Whatever it blows in, or blows out. Maybe because my grandmother loved it. She would recite a poem by Christina Rosetti,

“Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
“Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.”
Here where I live we basically have 2 kinds of pine trees, longleaf and loblolly pines. You can tell the difference because the longleaf have 3 needles to each “bundle”, loblolly has usually 2. And longleaf cones are very large. Most pine cones are about 3 or 4 inches long, maybe (except pinions which are really small, or hemlock which are even smaller).
Picture1119170643_1.jpg
longleaf cone, about 9 inches tall
My mom used to love these pinecones piled in a basket on the hearth at Christmas. Now you can buy them soaked in cinnamon oil which is lovely and fragrant, if you happen to love the smell of cinammon.
Birds have a harder time foraging in the winter so I will load up the pine cone leaves with peanut butter and roll it in birdseed. The birds really love this (so do squirrels, possums and raccoons so if you try this hang it from the branch of a tree or the bird feeder, preferably with a baffle). One winter when my brother and I were little our mom thought it would be fun to do this project only she used suet (beef fat). And it was fun, except we only did this that one year because our mom had a thing about touching raw meat or meat products of any kind and she could not get us to do much of the assembling of these cones.
It’s kind of amazing to look at these cones. When they are young and green, still in the tree they are closed up tight. Their seeds form above each leaf so when the cone ages the leaves will open and eventually drop the seeds. Squirrels, being the impatient creatures they are, won’t wait and will chew off the leaves to get to the seeds, leaving the skinny “cob” of the cone. If you look at the cone when it has opened you can see the spiral pattern of the leaves swirling up toward the top. Amazing to me what the Great Designer did when He decided to create the plants and trees, each of which has a property that can help heal in some way.
3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?”
Picture1119170644_1.jpg
Rosetti: The Golden Book of Poetry, 1947; Psalm 8:3,4

Autumn, finally

It’s been summer hot for so long fall colors completely surprised me this week. We went for our usual walk in the woods, rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I. Foggy morning, but we came to the millpond…

Picture1111171524_1.jpg

Eerily still, drops of mist plinking into the pond, no crickets, no birds, no frogs.

Picture1111171522_1.jpg

Lily, always looking for something of interest

Picture1111171521_1.jpg

Lulu quite ready to move us along

So still, as though waiting for something. The autumn, a flash of brightness, the days grow shorter with brilliant reds, yellows, orange to show for it in maples, sweetgum, dogwood, cypress. Lighting our way through the onset of the dimmer winter, such as it is here, before they fall, those leaves, to carpet the forest floor. Then sleep. Dying to rest, waking in a few brief weeks to bring newness of life again.

Picture1111171518_1.jpg

Enshrouded like this almost ashamed they’ve lost their summer’s glory, giving way, saying goodbye to this year’s offering of shade, food, nesting homes, the grace of the air we breathe. Cleansing our atmosphere for us, now losing their power to begin the long sleep.

Yet still, life emerges, continues amid the preparation for rest….

Picture1111171516_1.jpg

barely visible on the leafy ground a turtle looking for a safe spot to dig its winter haven.

Picture1111171514_1.jpg

no, Lily, don’t think he needs our help.

Summer, 2017, signing off….

interludes

I have lived with daylight savings time all my life and have never gotten used to it. By the time it goes back to standard time I have simply learned to go from day to day with one less hours’ sleep.

I really don’t like it.

I can remember my father returning home Fridays after his week’s commute to New York setting his watch because the time was different there in summer. You’d have thought I’d have more interesting memories than watching my father set his watch, but I doted on him. Since he was gone every week he was the magic parent. He was not home enough to be ordinary so I’d carefully watch and listen to everything about him.

Except when I had ponies.

I never caught the tennis bug or the golf bug or the tanning bug. So summers, except when I had a good book to read or went to a friends’ house or a movie, weren’t too exciting. Oh, I loved the freedom like any kid. No school, no early mornings, I went barefoot and wore shorts and t-shirts every day. But the summers of the ponies were transportive.

I learned about these ponies from a neighborhood friend. Mr. Robinson had all these ponies and he rented them, if a family had an appropriate place to care for them, enough yard, a place for shelter. Our house where I grew up had a detached 2-car garage. We only used one side for a car, the other side housed the lawn mower and various other dusty items that kind of blended into the grey-brown of the inside of the garage. Next to that was an old but sturdy chicken coop, complete with surrounding small fence. It was fine, Mr. Robinson said. So he brought  my first rented pony named Claudia, a couple of bales of hay and a bridle. No saddle, just bareback.

I found some other neighborhood girls who rented ponies at the same time and we rode all over the place. These ponies weren’t shod so we were careful to keep them on the grass. This was true freedom.

So every summer for I guess 5 or 6 years one or two weeks I rented one of these ponies. I never met one I didn’t like, or more to the point, that did not like me. Ponies can be mean little creatures if they take a dislike to you. My brother came to the elementary school playground across from our house where we all mostly rode. It was about 4 acres of wide open space. He wanted to try riding, he said. I slid off and handed him the reins. He looked at me. So we walked the pony over to the concrete picnic tables where he could give himself a leg up. On he went. Something about this the pony did not like.

Off went the pony. Fast. And off went my brother, right in the dirt. I probably should have given him a few tips on how to ride but I figured he’d watched us enough and figured it out. He hadn’t, on top of which he’d had the wind knocked out of him. So I had to stop first and make sure he’d be ok.

The thing about ponies is when they start running if nobody’s riding they don’t stop. So having the assurance my brother would live and somehow not find a way to get Mom after me for his injuries, gritting my teeth I took off. Last I’d seen she rounded the side of the school to the front of the building. Right after that would be a street. Not a highly traveled one, but still.

I pumped around to the front of the school to find her there on the lawn, calmly grazing. So relieved I nearly cried, I slowly walked up so as not to spook her off again and gently picked up her reins. Crisis averted.

There were 4 or 5 of those ponies that were my favorites… Claudia was the first, Vera (she shared more than one summer with us), a little strawberry roan named Peaches… Peaches I got two weeks one year, for the price of one. Mr. Robinson liked the way we cared for those ponies, and she’d gained a little weight…

Fun times.

free_4416335.jpg