silent

I honestly have never been at a loss for words. As a child my father called me a chatterbox. I could chat anybody up on almost anything once I got an idea of their interests.

But this strange restriction has got me. I have realized I am fed up with it and am trying to quietly wait it out. I’m at a point where I am certain a doctor will have a universal solution and we will all be free of this.

Freedom is not just movement, but a state of mind. You can have all the money you could ever imagine, access to any form of travel, homes in many countries and still be bound in some way.

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I hear over and over of Christian or prisoners of other faiths, wrongfully imprisoned yet their hearts and minds are unbound by the cell that has become their world. They sing, they accept with joy even the vile or menial tasks they are given and do their very best at it.

This virus is very odd. There seems to be more to it and we are fighting psychological as well as social and emotional bondage from it. I for one am beginning to tire of the same doctors who have been directing us these past several months. But when new doctors begin to tell us of therapies that have proven successful in treating this malady, that could give us immunity and therefore freedom, they are quickly silenced.

Why?

I may never know the answer. I do know that God knows the number of our days. This relieves considerable stress. I no longer worry irrationally about masks or hand sanitizer. I do what I am legally directed, follow sensible advice and leave the rest.

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu have experienced little change in their routines. We have never been banned from parks so as long as the weather has warranted we go for walks. The summer has begun to be summer hot so we are limited in time of day, but they are older now and do not mind the extra long afternoon nap times.

The beach inn where my family and I vacationed every summer cancelled all existing reservations, then opened to new reservations. This made no sense, since many simply made new reservations. We did not, nor did anyone who shared the inn with us for ‘our’ week.

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So since I did not get to visit my family last year for any holiday at all it’s been a year since I have seen them. Call me foolish but I’m driving to east Texas from coastal NC next week. Packing masks, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes.

Unless this Isaias storm has other ideas.

(why couldn’t it just be called Isaiah?)

projects

Like most others in this forced lockdown I have sought out projects. It’s amazing how much you can find to do when you really look.

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Some shrubs had grown halfway up the window. How is it I did not notice I couldn’t see out of the window? So I pruned them. Amazing the difference an enlarged perspective made.

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My mom always told me books are my friends. Some are such good friends I had 2 or 3 of the same book, or very similar. So I culled through my bookshelves. I stored the boxes of books in a room I don’t use much. It looks like I am moving. Maybe the used bookstore will open soon, or the library will receive donations again.

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Next project— a couple of slow moving drains. This can be a pretty gross chore, but the all-natural cleaning method of baking soda, cleaning vinegar and salt is very gratifying. All that fizzing!

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A realtor who listed a former house for me told me to wash window sills and baseboards. Who knew these got dirty?? So I learned a new housekeeping chore. Check.

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My latest project will take longer. The caps on the fence posts around my yard are literally disintegrating. So I went to the hardware store. They all have 4×4, 6×6 but not 5×5 which is what I have so I looked online. There is a company called Post Cap Depot. Who’d have ever guessed? I had hoped to have a project for this Memorial Day weekend but this one will have to wait. So I am repotting some plants that are pot-bound. No one should be confined.

And I am going to reflect, in this time of harsh restrictions, on the brave American military who have fought to protect our God-given freedoms for over two centuries.

We are all fighting for those freedoms now.

CDF0FFD1-5D08-4313-9BB1-AFF7FD4D4FF8Lily and Lulu are worn out!

So I wish everyone a safe and healthy reopening, and I won’t ever take any freedom for granted again.

 

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isolation

Years ago, inspired by a book I had read about inner awakenings I sought the solace of a nearby Abbey. This unique place offered retreats to individuals of different lengths of time and, completely unaware of what I would encounter I chose one for five days, the longest offered.

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I am not Catholic. I have attended and joined nearly every denomination that exists in my search for God. This five days helped me see where He is.

He is within us.

I was shown my quarters and invited to attend any or all of the monastic service or prayers. They begin at 3:00 a.m. which required rising at 2:30. I wanted the whole experience.

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The services followed an order of worship, psalms, an illumination on the readings. At 7:00 a.m. they were completed for the day, until vespers and compline in evening, 6 p.m.

Thus the whole day stretched out before me.

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I guess I had never before been completely, utterly alone. At this time I had no cell phone. There was no television, no radio at the Abbey. There was an order of silence on the grounds except for the services or times of community (meals or, for the residents, the workday). There were books and a wonderful library. There were gardens and a historic Civil War-era cemetery. So I began exploring. But I began to feel and know the impact of being in a place where God was the singular focus of life. And it hurt. I was appalled, shamed, humiliated, and, at moments, terrified. There, I was, by self-imposition held against the perfect One. In the light of His focus (inescapable) and His love I squirmed. I cried. I pleaded. I begged Him to not see me. And finally, spent, I stopped fighting. I released my fears, my selfness. I began to listen. In His complete love that exists for each of us I heard His gentle coaxing and came near. I think for the first time I realized I could come near.

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I have been back to the Abbey many times. Each visit is like going home because the reason I go there refocuses my mind, resets my heart. I find clarity. These stressful days where we are asked to voluntarily close ourselves away are not difficult for me. But I hear comments from others of boredom, anxiety. It is hard being alone with yourself, until you know, beyond who you are, Whose you are.

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At least, that’s how it was for me.
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honor

It’s mid-October but that doesn’t matter if you’re the weather. Hurricane season lasts 6 months, June 1 through November 30, every year. So I shouldn’t be surprised there is a storm heading this way. This time from the gulf so it may only be some strong winds and thunderstorms, maybe no flooding. So even though it’s been in the 50s-60s winter clothes are still in mothballs. Or patchouli.

I had a couple of appointments this week, early morning. As I arrived I noticed a small cluster of people by the door, a World War II veteran among them. The doors slowly opened and though the veteran and his wife were obviously first at the door, others crowded around them to get into the warmth of the office inside.

As the others signed in I stood aside. The veteran’s wife walked with him as they made their way slowly to the desk. The appointment clerk noticed his ball cap and said with quiet reverence, “A World War II veteran, thank you for your service, sir.” He turned to take his seat and his wife murmured a whispered “thank you” as she passed me.

There could not have been more than 5 or 6 of us. How much time would it have cost anyone to wait for this gentleman to maintain his place, first in line? Or simply out of respect?

It’s like waiting to either board or deplane a flight. Everyone has to be first. Nothing else seems to matter. But it does.

What’s happened to thoughtfulness? Consideration for others? Did it vanish when prayer was evicted from schools and public places? How can we relearn to forget ourselves and think of others?

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Taken for granted. Thoughtless. This is wrong. What has happened? Is it so hard to see? Aren’t there enough war films that show what war is? Or has Hollywood become so glamorized that we think it’s all fiction? Don’t schools teach more than facts, dates? Like it or not it is true when others tell us because of those soldiers we have the life we have in America. No, it isn’t perfect. No, it isn’t the same for everyone, but we still claim our freedoms.

That veteran helped insure it.

God help us to be humble. To appreciate.

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dependence

This is almost an unknown anymore. No one wants to need anyone or anything. Self-sufficient, self-reliant. No one needs anything or anyone.

Until we do.

I know next to nothing about cats. I have never shared my home or my life with one, nor have I ever developed a long-term relationship with one. I had seen a grey tabby wandering our neighborhood street once or twice and though most of my neighbors have dogs there could be someone nearby with a cat.

proxy.duckduckgo.jpgexemplary photo, not my picture

I know that cats are reputed to be aloof, independent. The very few encounters I have ever had were mostly friends who had cats that would deign to allow me to pet them, or not, and a lovely white cat, one blue eye and one green eye, who paid an occasional visit when I lived in a small condo years ago. Then one afternoon this same cat came running on its hind legs frantic, clearly having recently given birth to a litter which I was never able to find.

The cat disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared.

So this grey cat. When the dehumidifier was going in the crawlspace one of the guys installing it came out and asked if I had a grey cat.  I replied I did not (rescue dogs Lily and Lulu I am sure would not permit this), but I had recently seen one in the neighborhood.

IMG_0889.JPGLoropetalum, a favorite landscaper’s shrub, in full bloom now

Well, it’s in your crawlspace.

Not fully understanding whether I was now meant to go in there and flush the cat out or this was simply information being conveyed, I was relieved to learn it was the latter when he continued, “We got out of its way and it ran out.”

So the installation was completed and they left, promising to return at a later time to finish attaching the door frame, assuring me the crawlspace door was tightly secured.

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That night I was awakened around 2 by a plaintive, faint “meow”. I guessed the cat was passing by and talked to itself.

The next night my son who was visiting for the weekend heard it, too.

Again Monday night I heard this, persistent now. I decided this cat had maybe had a litter that the installers somehow did not see and it was trying to get back inside. So I went outside and walked clear around and found nothing.

IMG_0893.JPGGaillardia (blanket flower) setting buds

An hour or so later I heard soft thudding noises from under the house. Clearly somehow this cat had got back in unnoticed while the installation was going on and was trying to get out. In the light of morning I unscrewed the door and cracked it open, leaving it that way for about 30-40 minutes. Then closed it. I did not hear any more cat.

I called the people who’d installed this thing and explained about the cat. I spoke with the lady that scheduled jobs and she clearly had heard nothing about a cat but assured me she would send the person out who was to finish the door. He came in and inspected everywhere finding the cat had shredded the sealants (thudding noises I’d heard) that had been installed to close the vents so he had to replace those as well.

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So this cat, feral, wild and free, absolutely needed help when it found itself trapped under my house, which I happily gave it.

I guess we all need a hand now and then, even from a perceived enemy.

 

IMG_0896.JPGLily sleeping peacefully, no cats to ward off

IMG_0895.JPGLulu sleeping happily, cat-free environment

 

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wreaths

I had never done this before. Wreaths Across America is an organization that allows ordinary people like me to sponsor wreaths that are placed on graves of soldiers at national cemeteries. They do this in one day (today this year), at all national cemeteries all over America.

So I signed up in October to volunteer to place the wreaths. At the time there were 11 others who had volunteered. The cemetery here has 5,200 gravesites so I guessed we’d be pretty busy for most of the day.

I guessed wrong.

They’ve done this for about 10 years. Each year more people become involved, both donating wreaths as well as volunteering to place them. There were hundreds this year.

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Despite flooding rains, mud, Christmas shopper traffic all these people came. Not just military people, there were Gold Star Moms, families, college students, plain people like me and veterans.

With military precision the ceremony began at 12:00pm sharp with an invocation, presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. If that wasn’t enough to get someone choked up, the flags of each branch of the military, including Civil Air Corps and Rough Riders with a representative of the branch all laid a wreath for their branch of service.

Taps was played. Slowly and with dignity. Those who made public comments reminded us that each grave represented an individual whose life is celebrated because they fought to keep America free. No, they do not give us our freedom. God has given us that but these people we remember for ensuring our freedom is still honored and lived.

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We take this for granted. We shouldn’t.

When the ceremony concluded we made our way to the crates of wreaths. The heady scent of Fraser fir drifted on the light breeze. I had sponsored 5 wreaths so I took those to a stark row of white marble headstones. We had been asked, when laying the wreath, to speak aloud the name of the soldier honored and for a few moments pause out of respect and gratitude.

This brought more than a few tears for me. Nationalism is not a bad thing. Having respect for what one’s country represents is important. I don’t mean to the point where it is an end in itself. This country was founded by those who wanted to live God-given lives of freedom and order, not under tyranny or political strife. America is not in a good place today and I cannot for the life of me figure out why there are those who hate America, the Constitution and our laws created to protect this country. The founders fought and worked hard to establish America to provide good life for people who also want to work hard. The generosity of Americans is staggering. Yet that generosity ought to be honored, not abused.

The soldiers buried in that cemetery believed in this country and believed in fighting for those beliefs. I’m glad to have been a part of showing them we respect that.

And still remember.

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“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  –John 8:32 NASB

 

chance, luck, coincidence

I don’t believe in that. When I was a little girl filled with mythical romantic fairy tales I did. I’m not jaded. We have turns of events in life that surprise us, none more humbling than as the result of things we contrived ourselves that failed. Or those that became real.

Maybe that’s why I cling to nature. It has its own rhythm. What happens there always has a reason. So even though this might not be their 7th year we have an abundance of newly hatched cicadas. Now. Not from May or June, now.

They crawl up out of the earth where the previous generation laid eggs and they grew into grubs. They crawl up tree trunks where they split their skins and emerge, these beauIMG_0534.JPGtiful googly-eyed insects 1-2 inches long and make a deafening song until they become ant fodder at their life’s end.

These abandoned exoskeletons are stuck all over different trees. They are not attractive larva. You seldom see them before they are empty shells. But this is their metamorphosis. Probably not painful so they  are not reluctant to go through this process, unlike people who resist change almost constantly. Until at least a certain age where we have either built up enough strength and resilience to survive it, with senses of humor, or indifference that hardens and encases us like the abandoned shells the katydids leave.

Caterpillars are the same. I can’t imagine snuggling into a cocoon is anything uncomfortable. But I wonder, are the caterpillars awake when they begin and complete their beautiful transformation to a butterfly?

IMG_0526.JPGanother swallowtail butterfly finishing off a stem of fennel

One of my favorite places to volunteer is a public garden here. It is 7 acres on property that at one time was a private elementary school. Several different sorts of gardens have been developed: native plants, veterans memorial, forest, herb and kitchen, children’s, rain gardens and several others. Each week stalwart souls gather in unimaginable heat and humidity to sweat among the weeds and flowers for 2-3 hours doing various chores. One of my favorites is weeding. There is something so gratifying about pulling a clump of nut sedge or chamberbitter or smilax root and leaving loose rich soil for the phlox, cone flowers, maypops and others. The garden spiders start quite small, and late in the summer become like this that I straightened from pulling weeds to see

 

IMG_0532.JPGharmless garden spider unless you are a fly

What I guess I marvel most at is that there are few anomalies in nature. Oak trees grow acorns, not cherries. Spiders eat flies, moths and other insects. Each living thing in the natural world has its own purpose and lives to fulfill it. But then there are no freedoms either. They do what they do because it is what they were created to do. We people were given freedom. Free will. A brain that we use to function, or allow to confuse us .

And then there are storms. Four actually, in the Atlantic right now. Each one is steered and guided by so many factors, the temperature of the ocean, wind and water currents, high or low pressure systems in the atmosphere. Like this one, named Florence

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This may not have my little NC coastal town’s name on it but we are in the “cone of possibility”. Not strange. This time of year is the peak season for these storms. And we are told how and when to prepare in case it comes too close. There are no hurricane shelters here because no place will be safe.

I lived in different places in Florida from 2004-2006, 2005 being the year Katrina hit New Orleans and there were so many named storms that year they exhausted the alphabet and began over with AA, BB, CC. The season went long into December.

So last year was not a good year, either, with Harvey, Irma, Maria. I guess this year is catching up from having no storms in August. Maybe it’s better to get them all over with in one week.

Assuming that is, that we will.

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So while we batten down the hatches against whatever may or may not come, enjoy the last drops of summer. Notice the turning of the leaves. The bite in the air that is a harbinger of Autumn.

 

Birdies

Carolina wrens are really in-your-face out there kind of birds. They are territorial and pretty fearless. They are amiable, though and friendly. I have had them nesting in my garage where I had to leave the garage door opened 4 or 5 inches so they could get in and out if I had no plans to open it otherwise any given day. Their babies  fledged and then I could have it operate normally.

So I was working at my computer this week, it was a beautiful day and I had doors and windows open to enjoy the fresh, fall air. My dogs were dozing nearby. I heard a soft *thunk*, the dogs raised their heads, cocked their ears. I walked into the bedroom down the hall and saw a brown flash darting across the ceiling.

Carolina wren.

If you know a birder these are also known as “lbj”s. This familiar term includes sparrows and any other small “little brown job” bird. These birds are quick. This bedroom isn’t overly large so I figured I’d be able to catch this bird in a few minutes.

Wrong.

I turned off the ceiling fan and the bird flew over to the top of the window frame.

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From there it got pretty clever. Under the dresser, behind the bookcase, under the beds, behind a picture still waiting to be hung on a wall, behind the bed headboards, on a wall shelf, behind a plant –at this point I figured I had him… he could not see me behind the plant pot, or so I thought. Just as I had my hands positioned to close over him he dashed out again.

Describing this it sounds like mere moments but no, this went on for nearly an hour. I began to understand how a shepherd feels when one of his sheep wanders off then, enjoying its imagined freedom, refuses to allow itself to be captured until exhaustion from running and evasion it gives up to the safety of the watched-over flock.

I don’t know whether or not this bird was becoming over tired, I know I was, but it flew between the slats of the window blinds and I reached over and closed the blinds. It hopped back and forth and I cornered it on one side, placing my fingers between the blinds so I could hold it by its legs. It was suddenly still.

I walked outside with this bird, eyeing me the entire way. Once outside I opened my hand so it sat on the flat of my palm. It continued to look at me almost daring me to touch it again.

And then it flew away.

Aunt Betty

My dad’s baby sister was a law unto herself. She had been a beautiful young woman, could have had any man she wanted. Dad always said she was terribly spoiled because she was the baby, the first girl-child in several generations, and so very pretty. I suppose prettier people have others of us at a disadvantage, but I didn’t think much of it. We only visited her once, in New Jersey, with her family.

Then she grew older, her daughters grew up and moved on with their own lives, her husband passed away. So she moved south to be closer to my dad. Mom had passed away and Dad had remarried a person Aunt Betty had also known because “Hat” (short for Harryet) had been a part of their growing-up lives. In summers Hat would visit them from her home in Kansas to where they lived in Colorado Springs.

Aunt Betty had never said much, not to me anyway. Dad always said she was self-centered. Why that justified her taciturn manner I have no idea, I always saw her as slightly eccentric but very sweet.

Dad took care of many things for Aunt Betty. He bought his nieces their prom dresses, gave Aunt Betty financial assistance whenever she asked for it. She would give Dad a “wish list” every month of things she wanted or needed- a television, computer paper, pens, supplies for her endless genealogy research, bird seed for her little but very unfriendly parakeet. Dad would peruse the list and purchase those things he knew she truly needed, occasionally omitting one or two things she didn’t really need. Then Dad passed away. My brother and I lived out of town and would alternate our visits with Dad. The weekend he moved on to his heavenly home was my weekend to be with him. As I arrived at the health center where he was staying at the time Aunt Betty was sitting outside. I greeted her.

“I’m waiting for my ride to take me back to Southminster,” she said, then, “your dad won’t let me have his car.”

Aunt Betty had recently been in a car wreck where, having gotten lost, she drove her car up over a median and broke an axle.

“Maybe he is worried more for your safety, Aunt Betty,” I replied. And added it was good to see her looking so well. Her ride drove up and I went in to see Dad.

He died the next day. Eventually, over the next year or so, other circumstances brought me back home to NC where Aunt Betty still lived. I would visit her on weekends, see how she was, catch up on news of her daughters and have lunch. I enjoyed those visits and she seemed to enjoy them, too. I moved away again, back to where I had been living in New Mexico and after a few months began arranging to return home to North Carolina. Before I made the move my cousins contacted me to say Aunt Betty was unwell and in hospital. No one really knew what was going on or what to do. Then she passed away.

The last time I had seen her she was concerned about a pivotal event in her life that had happened many years earlier. She had been a teenager. She had an argument with her mother. I don’t know what about, but her mother left for the afternoon and was struck and killed by a car. Aunt Betty was quiet a few moments after talking about this, then slowly said, without looking at me, “Do you think it was my fault?”

This greatly surprised me. “Of course not!” then I realized: over these however many years, had Aunt Betty been carrying this dreadful weight around, afraid to speak it, afraid to laugh, afraid to live? I felt a deep sadness for her, for this life she’d somehow endured, looking out through her self-created prison of guilt and remorse and grief over the loss of her mother, blaming herself.

That sort of unforgiveness is crippling. But she had allowed, through a marriage, the birth and rearing of two lovely daughters, the death of her husband and the rest of her life, this to keep her from taking a breath in freedom. She had a strong faith and spoke of it often, of her love for Jesus but I cannot help think she never allowed that love and grace to be hers.

I pray she found that forgiveness in her passing from this life to the next. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:10