In his first essay, “Economy”, from Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” (1854) So what does desperation mean? What about those who have clearly identified their God-given gifts (where else could they come from?) and have found the niche to enable appropriate use of these gifts, thus establishing a satisfying life for both the gifted and those who are recipients of these gifts. End of story? Not by a long shot. What about the rest of us? You know, the ones who are good at a few things but don’t seem to focus too well. Or can’t give up two or three of their efforts to choose one abandoning all else. Would it be abandonment? Would those gifts go unused? And what about what C. S. Lewis said nearly 100 years later in Mere Christianity: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.” (1952) Some atheists may disagree, saying they evolved from that speck of dust, or this piece of seaweed. But even that speck of dust, that piece of seaweed came from Someone. Nothing just happens. So is desperation emptiness? Is it a running away from something? or a frantic running toward something? A constant seeking, never finding, or just the fear of never finding? Or is it just plain fear?
It is said that sometimes loved ones send messages shortly after their passing to those left behind. If this is true then I can believe that is what my mother gave me the 3 nights after her death. She and I had been very close through most of my teen and college-aged years but following my divorce all my relationships could best be described as on and off. Mom and I had been in one of the off phases when she had 3 heart attacks in a span of 2 weeks. The 3rd one took her from this earthly plane and the bottom fell out of my life. The first night after her death she appeared in my dream and, with her eyes closed, only allowing me to see her face and head, talked to me all night in this dream. For the life of me I could not remember (and still can’t) any of what she said. The second night she was atop a high pinnacle, pointing to her left arm, saying “I hurt”. The third night she was surrounded by thousands of laughing, joyful children and I had never seen her look so purely happy.
My dad took a bit longer to send me his message, maybe a month, six weeks. In my dream of Dad, he appeared as he had looked as a much younger man, sparkling eyes, trim, without the characteristic limp he’d been burdened with since falling off a mountain in his home of Colorado as a teenager. He asked me to dance. He’d always loved to dance. I was thrilled and ran to my closet to choose the perfect dress to wear. I couldn’t decide on one! So I found 3, put them all on, one over the other, then rushed out to meet him for my dance with him. He was gone! I looked everywhere, asked people I saw, no one knew of him. How I cried when I realized he had gone, I had missed my dance.
I do not know the significance or even the validity of these dreams. Maybe they mean nothing at all. But to me, at the time, they brought me great comfort. I saw my parents, each in turn, at their happiest, free of the encumbrances of pain and sickness, in the element of what they each loved best. And I continue to dream of them, occasionally.
Though there has not been, to my knowledge, any formal debate on whether or not dogs have souls I will never understand how anyone who has a soul himself can not believe that dogs do not as well.They have moods, they clearly have preferences as to foods, toys and persons. These can certainly be considered instinct, but on what is instinct based? Is it genetic? Is it only intuitive? Clearly their sense for goodness is not learned, but can be unlearned as anyone who knows of the brutality of dog fighting is aware. Has anyone ever seen a puppy that is a monster? No. After a puppy is weaned it wants companionship and to give love and be playful. This search for and pleasure in joy and companionship is not animal-based. If it were we would all have natures that could not aspire to reason, to wisdom. Perhaps it is arguable that dogs have no sense of reason but I have known plenty of dogs who, having encountered a skunk are wary of them afterward. I also have known a few (not many, mercifully) individuals who continually “push the envelope”. Maybe not by putting their hand on a hot stove burner more than once, but venture too many times into places where even angels fear to tread. No, I think in many cases dogs are smarter than people. Sadly, though they know they need us for many things after they become parts of our heart and home, consider this: to what family member would we deny the same?
I love the sound of rain. I love the smell just before it rains, the tension in the air, humidity becoming prickly as the air moisture reaches for the raindrops. When the weather has been sunny and hot for several days even the plants know when the rain is coming. They strain toward the sky in anticipation of life-giving moisture. After the rain the air can seem sticky, as though the rain simply coated it with more moisture. Explosive storms blast the humidity and the air is fresh, clear, cooler. Trees appear washed, rinsed clean of dust. There aren’t clouds of gnats and mosquitoes as when the air becomes more humid. I don’t know where they go when the rain cleans and washes the earth. I don’t know where butterflies go either, but they gradually reappear, visiting their favorite nectar-rich flowers.
Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.
So 10 days ago my faithful, oft-abused pc died. It was a quiet, peaceful death. No rattles, wheezing of the cooling mechanism, sputtering, flashing lights– no drama. It just died. The little “on” light appeared but clearly the mother board was no longer paying attention. I received an email from my favorite pc manufacturer (HP- because my dad liked them) and bought a new one. And waited for FedEx to carefully hand-deliver it. Which they did, yesterday. I tenderly, gently unboxed it, slowly and gently removed the peripherals, keyboard and mouse from the now-deceased Pavilion and hooked up my new 110. The monitor was not wide enough so, not initially realizing this I called for help. Here is where I expected the worst and received a grace and helpfulness far beyond what I could ever have hoped. The young man took in all my rantings and reminded me that my monitor had controls which would enable me to adjust what the pc broadcast so I could see the entire screen. He did not have to go any further. But he did. He talked me through the registration screen, the naming screen, the password screen, all the way to the Windows 8 Start page. I was overwhelmed. I don’t think I have ever been treated so kindly, with such patience and true helpfulness. And this by a 24-year-old. They have absolutely no patience for anyone over the age of 30. Without revealing my specific age, suffice to say I have a son who is older than this young man. It may have been his training and he just paid more attention, but I think this person is going far in his life. He is making the most out of his current position as if it were the best and most important job on the face of the Earth which, to me at the time, it was. If more people would treat their jobs and others they encounter as this young man treated me we will eliminate much of the problems we have, and a lot of the ulcer diagnoses. Take note, you young (and not-so-young). People matter. What they think, what they need, matters. You matter.
When you are afraid, do the thing you are afraid of and soon you will lose your fear of it.
~Norman Vincent Peale
Is courage an offshoot of freedom, or is freedom an offshoot of courage? Can either exist without the other? I don’t think so. Freedom isn’t something that is freely available. It has to be attained and maintained. Look at the natural world., Even vines fight each other for valuable real estate. If one wants more it simply grows over the other and strangles it. If it is a parasitic vine it lives off the life of its host plant until the host dies, then it moves on to the next host. Intervention is only by another, stronger vine or a human with sharp shears.
Animals mark their territories. They guard and defend them until a stronger invader marauds the current occupant and overcomes. This happens with creatures from wolves to hummingbirds. Put a new feeder out for these tiny birds and watch the battles, until the victor emerges and vigilantly defends that feeder, swooping and squealing, diving to protect its newly-claimed food source. So what makes it so difficult for people? Do we just think we won’t ever experience real threats? Those threats are certainly real in tiny Israel. We need to value the gifts we have and be strong to protect them.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
– C. S. Lewis
Being something of a recluse I can freely associate the precious gift of a true friend to this quote. There is nothing like having someone, male or female, who can let you be you. Who can laugh with you, cry with you, listen endlessly to you pour out your heart until you think it’s empty, all the while refilling it with their hope, grace, charm, warmth and time. Just knowing there is someone to whom you can go, no matter what you have on your heart or your mind, and gladly listen. Consequently, the gift is truly enjoyed when this person is also someone who values your listening ear, your time, your laughter, tears and (you hope) wise observations or gentle advice. There is really nothing like having someone you can’t wait to be with, whether you are sitting together quietly reading, window shopping, enjoying a lunch or dinner at a restaurant, seeing a movie, and to whom you can say how you feel, what you think knowing you will not be judged but held carefully within the parameters of your friendship, reflected in both personalities. Nothing like it.
If time could wrinkle itself from when my son was 10 to now, 23 years later, I see a responsible and independent young man who has a good job that he loves and a girlfriend he cares for very much. He maintains his own household, pays his own bills, owns and insures his own car and does all the things that, when he was 10 I wondered he would accomplish. It is a different perspective, especially seeing him so generous and caring of another. It affects entirely the person he is and continues to become. Oh, he and I still remember funny things that happened, lines from movies we saw that were special to us, adventures, and terrific storms we weathered, both natural and emotional. But all that is now in the past. I have become more a memory in his life and hope to share some aspect of his future someday, in some way.
As for me, becoming the person God created now on my own, I am working more at listening for God’s still, small voice. I am seeking the Holy Spirit’s voice in my heart. I am still trying to apply more what I am learning and understanding now to what is important, not so much what I learned as a child and very young woman because in those days I created personas I thought I ought to be. Now I am peeling away the layers I painted and applied to find who is underneath. Once completely unearthed I hope to be in a better place where I can walk forward and be useful, be pertinent, be a part of something that makes life better.
Raising children is exhausting especially if you do it alone. My son often asked how old I was, a question I artfully evaded for years. After a particularly trying day he asked again. “112,” I told him. He said nothing. Maybe he believed me. Maybe he weighed the importance of this vast number– was I about to die? was I immortal?? I will never know what went through his remarkable mind at that moment, but I know I wondered whether or not I felt that old. I know that, no matter how many years I may live mentally I still feel as I did when I was 17. That was the best year of my life– I earned my driver’s license, I went to a new high school where I really flourished academically and socially, I was very active, my parents actually honored my decisions (or they didn’t care), but I felt truly independent and good about myself. At least I don’t feel 112 anymore but nearing 60 I am still running 2-3 miles everyday with my dog, gardening, reading, trying to figure out how to be assertive without aggression, how to be unobtrusive yet still have all I need and maybe some of what I want, live modestly and save a little at the same time, fight for truth and balance in politics and life. And eat well while still enjoying food that tastes good and maybe isn’t all that good for me yet not gain weight These are not lofty goals but what makes my life as it is now.