new horizons

Metaphysically speaking almost anything can be a new horizon. A new calendar year, a new job, a new home, a new day. Every year as long as I have known her my ex-mother-in-law has acknowledged my birthday, though at times I imagine she wished I did not have one, and has shared Christmas with a gift of a 3-month subscription of lovely seasonal fruit.

When Hurricane Florence threatened my area as a category 4 storm this thoughtful woman offered to have me stay with her (she lives about 250 miles inland) and had even advised a nearby veterinarian I would need to board my dogs. She let me know she had done all of this and I was deeply thankful to her for caring about me after 40 years. The forecasts about this storm changed constantly and, crazy as it might have sounded to her I said I needed to see how bad it would be since it would be difficult to return in the aftermath (it was, very) and I’d rather be there in case my home sustained any damage so I could report it quickly (it did, though minor thank God).

Though I sent her flowers this apparently was insufficient to appease her or convince her of my (slightly) insane decision to stay. For the first time in all these 40-plus years I did not receive a birthday card from her.

Ouch.

Nor did I receive the annual Christmas gift of fruit. Admittedly, her family sustained a terrible shock just before Thanksgiving in a completely unexpected death in their family so I truly did not look for anything from her. Quite the contrary I found myself at loose ends as to what I could do to help because our lives were not connected at any significant depth.  Yet this is a new horizon for me. A new phase where I proceed in life without her in it as she seems to have chosen to end contact.

This happens in life. We gain friends, we lose friends, people. Circumstances change. New discoveries are made that can change how we see everything.

Very early New Year’s night this happened. My son (who has done this since he left home) called to wish me a happy new year. I suddenly remembered the New Horizons space craft had been scheduled to encounter the outermost object in our solar system, the Ultima Thule (too’ -lee).

UT-approach-3D.jpg(courtesy NASA.gov)

What this object is as yet is unknown. The New Horizons has gone behind the sun so extracting data about it is not possible for a few days. Once it returns to a receptive position NASA will begin a 20-month extraction to determine what this is, how old it is and, ultimately, they hope to better understand the origins of the universe.

God gives us gifts. I admire those given the gift of aerodynamics, science, astrophysics and anything that enables people to create that which, in my small brain, defies the logical capabilities of anything. I’m a total geek about space travel and discovery. When the space shuttles still flew I cried with joy everytime one returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center and watched as those enormous parachutes opened to stop its forward velocity.

This is all so incredible to me. I receive email notifications when the International Space Station is on a trajectory of my area’s longitude and latitude and I am given coordinates and times so I can go outside, if it’s clear, and watch this tiny dot of reflected light arc the sky overhead. And I stand there in awe of what God has enabled mere man to do.

So people, things, events, circumstances come and go in life. I have learned to enjoy them, be grateful and see them for the gift that they are however they present themselves and when they go, to continue to look ahead without regret or discouragement. Only God knows the number and substance of my days.

I hope to live them well.

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reflections

Probably the last hold-out for a smart phone, I caved and visited the phone store this week. I was early but not the first person so was placed on the digital line. Kind of like those coasters they give you at restaurants when you have to wait, instead of flashing lights my phone would beep. I wandered from one display to anotunnamed.jpgher comparing prices and functions. I knew a phone that had basic functions– calling and text –was what I was looking for, but also thought gps, wifi and better camera capability would be nice.

So as I looked at the offerings I overheard a lady explaining how difficult it was for her to adapt to change… she was worried about a new phone and her ability to use it.

I moved to another display of fitbits. Curious I started reading about them. A few feet away I heard a gentleman who had come in to have his phone screen repaired since it had gotten cracked.

My turn came and I explained what I was looking for, asked about 2 or 3 model phones, prices, function. We looked at them and I decided on one. While the salesperson activated the phone I stood quietly watching how easy this was for him, hoping I could adjust quickly. A lady came in briskly asking where a specific employee was, she had her card. Another salesman said she was off that day, could he help. The lady went on to say she was unhappy with something she’d purchased 2 weeks prior, why would they stock something like that? An unanswerable question, the salesman explained the warranty and the lady responded she’d been in Europe for 2 weeks. My salesperson continued to be very focused on my phone and I watched him, diligently. A sharp remark from the lady jerked my head up momentarily, I quickly looked away again. She stalked out. The person who had attempted to help her shook his head, muttering something about being yelled at. Mollified, I commented ” Some people just cannot be happy no matter what you do”. He perked a bit at that and I suddenly realized I was each of those people I’d noticed in that store.

At some point in my life I’d been impatient, demanding, frustrated, angry. A phase I mercifully grew out of. Or prayed my way out. Occasionally I encounter a situation or a new process in life that requires risk or change and I am briefly uncomfortable until I begin to understand it. And I have had many accidents in my life where I have broken things.

So, armed with this new device, a screen protector and insurance I have fortified myself as best I can to use this new little phone and protect it.

It is hard to see ourselves as others see us! Sometimes we exaggerate the good, other times the not so good. But that day I was given a gift of seeing where I had been and realized how patient others were.

Sometimes it’s important to see the kindness of others through others’ eyes, or behaviors.

13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— ”   Ephesians 4:13-15

 

 

 

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.

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Aqualung, Jethro Tull. Island Studios, 1971

transparent

I am no physicist, nor chemist.

Now that that’s out of the way, I love that water has skin.

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Its surface, unlike human skin, is easily penetrable. And it is transparent, usually. You can see beneath whether it is deep or if it’s shallow, whatever lurks in its depths.

Not so with people unless we decide to be transparent. Then we give from whatever it is beneath our surface. Behind the smile, is it joy or hiding something?

Water, you can tell. People you can’t always tell.

And gelatin has skin. Sort of. It’s viscous though… its skin is basically the same all the way to the bottom and sides of the bowl. And it’s transparent, but it has nothing but gelatin unless you put fruit or something in before it jelled. But if you touch it you leave an impression. And if you break the surface unlike water it stays that way.

With water you can look at the surface if it’s still, undisturbed and see your reflection, but not yourself. Sometimes with a person you can see your reflection in their eyes, and sometimes see yourself as well. You touch the surface of water and your hand comes away with part of its molecular structure. You touch a person, maybe a few cells get stuck but only if the connection is in a heart or in a mind in understanding, empathy you have a part of who they really are. And they you. Like with gelatin. An impression is made. Sometimes we may not like what we see. Sometimes we may misunderstand what we see. People change. Their thoughts, their hearts, their hopes.

And life changes people.

It’s just something you know

Sometimes.

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vignettes

Colder, wetter weather is said to be coming this way soon so this morning, though much cooler, I bundled rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and myself into the car around 6:15. It usually takes 10-15 minutes to drive the 7-8 miles to the beach but this morning there was no traffic and the lights were with us so we arrived a few minutes before the sun broke over the horizon.

There were the usual ragged groupings of people– college students standing rigid with arms deep in their jacket pockets stamping against the cold impatient for the sun to appear, 2 or 3 people huddled under blankets or beach towels on benches and scattered across the beach and a few others.

Just as the sun sparkled over the water I heard a tiny >shriek!< to my left. Pretty sure it was someone excited the sun appeared and now they could go get someplace warm I looked over to see a young man down on one knee, holding a small glittering box in his hands and a young girl in front of him (the one who shrieked) now beginning to sob. I felt a bit embarrassed witnessing such a private moment until I saw a lady not far videoing it with her phone. A friend, capturing the moment for posterity (or youtube).

We walked on a ways. A young man with an elderly dog at his feet. The person, taking pictures of the sunrise and completely ignoring his faithful friend below. The dog took no notice of my lovely two and almost with a visible sigh walked back a few paces, picked up his ball-throwing toy and dropped it at his person’s feet. Waiting patiently.

We moved on. The tide had just turned so a few rogue waves were still pushing their way up over the tide mark, making their impression before the full moon caused them to relinquish the surge. Enough though to wet our feet and cause us to dance up onto drier sand.

A few joggers, one or two braving the morning chill from the island hotels. As the days move on more and more return.

After about a half hour or so of walking, Lily, characteristic of her willful self, reached up and grabbed the leash from my hand with her teeth as if to say, “Ok, I’ve got this, let’s go!” and bounced the other way back toward the car.

The happy couple had disappeared, as had the college students and other odd groupings. A few more runners, a shell seeker or two.

A very special morning had broken.

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Waitress

So when my son was growing up and after I left my father’s employ at his newspaper (temporarily it turned out, but for me it was permanent at the time), I went through many other occupations. Legal assistant (fired because one attorney’s secretary took such a dislike to me she blamed my eyebrows whatever that meant, I have none), veterinary receptionist (horrible hours, and pretty cutthroat– those other receptionists incredibly unhelpful not to mention the sadness with some pets and their families), substitute teacher. This was an invitation for punishment. Some teacher, too weekend-hungover to go to work threw subs at the mercy of their vitriolic, vindictive students. There were not a few schools where I had no qualms telling them not to bother calling. I got consistent calls from a school with developmentally challenged students– autistic, severe and profound, various levels of educability/trainability. I rather enjoyed this. I was an assistant, but was only too glad to support teachers dedicated to their work, who threw their entire beings into their classes. It was however sporadic work and paid $45 a day. I lasted about a year at this, then went with temp agencies, lots of them. I figured I could work out my own hours. Oh sure, I knew they charged the employer upwards of $20-$30 per hour (this is in the 80s and 90s) while I got a small fraction, but I could decide what and when I wanted to work, I thought.

Eventually this too soured. I decided I’d be good at waitressing. I enjoyed seeing people having a good time, eating, being with friends. I had a lot of energy (then) and loved chatting people up. I applied to a small place downtown and learned they were looking for a hostess, it was a nightclub. Ok, I figured I was probably too old (mid-30s at this point), but I kept my name in. A few days later they called to offer me the job. I’d thought better of this job. It was in a not-so-great part of town, late hours, who’d stay with my son, so on. I declined.

A neighbor told me she had a friend who was a server at a dining club downtown. Renowned for great food and very popular for wedding rehearsals and receptions I thought I’d give this one a try. I filled out my application and was called back a few days later to interview. Had I ever worked in  restaurants before? No. Could I lift up to 35 pounds? Sure I could. Was I flexible with my hours? Yes. Ok, I was told to wait to speak to the manager of the dining room. A few moments later a young man appeared. A pleasant sort, looked a bit tired but he politely pointed me to a chair opposite his desk. He studied me a moment then asked me to tell him about myself, my previous work. I began a sort of diatribe I now realize. I can’t remember what I said or how long I talked. He rested his head on his hand, elbow propped up on his desk while I suppose I waxed rhapsodic about work and life in general. I thought at the time he was enthralled with my woven tapestry of life. Looking back I know he was probably just grateful to be out of his hectic kitchen.

I did not hear from them again.

So a new chain of restaurants was opening in the area: Olive Garden. Now popular, at the time it sounded fun and who doesn’t like Italian? So I went by one afternoon, filled out an application. They thanked me, explained I would hear “One way or the other” in a few days. Ever the optimist, I took out some of my meager savings to buy soft-soled shoes. I wanted them to be durable and sturdy but not something I’d fall over. The young man helping me was very patient. What did he think, high or low tops? I’d be on my feet a long time. Blank stare. Did he like this job? Maybe I wouldn’t be a shoe salesperson if the waitressing didn’t work out. I finally decided on low tops, black because I was told the uniform was black slacks, white shirt. I was called 2 days after. I spoke to two guys who looked to be about my age, very enthusiastic about their new venture, wanted a lot of enthusiasm and energy from their wait staff, they said. Oh, I understood, could completely be very energetic, enthusiastic! A lot of smiling, Nodding of assent, understanding. Then they excused themselves, saying they’d be right back. As they left I overheard one say, “Have we ever hired anyone that old before?” I did not stay for the rest of the interview.

From there I ran into some luck because I also volunteered at the library. One of the employees excitedly told me some positions were opening, I really needed to apply. I did. The rest is history, which resulted in the longest career in any one occupation in my working life.

And they required you be able to lift up to 40 pounds. (The black low-tops turned out to be great library shoes.)

Small towns, big cities

After quietly listening this past weekend to my son and sister-in-law debate better, faster routes through the city for several minutes I said, “I can’t imagine living anywhere that people talk more about streets and highways than each other.”

This stopped the conversation, and the car remained silent for the rest of our drive.

So that was it? Their most important conversation consisted of whether 290 was faster than some other road, how to get to 610, or which exit would be less congested than another?

Evidently. With no more words forthcoming, nor any laughter at my observation it became sadly apparent to me that people hide from each other behind the trivial. It is so much easier to talk about the objective or inanimate than what we think or need. About our hearts. Our souls.

Why?

I moved to a smaller town a year ago and immediately felt the non-claustrophobic closeness, that it would matter  to me if someone preferred a balsam tree to a spruce. I really do not care how I get anywhere so long as I do eventually get there, and whatever I encounter along the way though it may be frustratingly slow or congested gives me opportunity to hone my maneuvering skills or think about comments someone made, a friendly conversation, or simply to notice wildflowers that might be growing on the roadside. No one here I find is the least bit concerned about speaking their mind, or giving an opinion solicited or not, or simply pontificating on the virtues of Florida oranges over California ones. If I miss a church service and happen on a friend later that week they wonder how I am, where I’ve been.

It matters.

I have heard people comment or complain about a new road being built and the trees they took out for it, or some landmark now gone and that it was where their grandfathers greeted each other of a Saturday afternoon, on the porch or over a woodstove. But not about travel routes. People here are not afraid they might impose if they show that they care.

We each make our own way in this life and hopefully help each other. Our strengths and vulnerabilities make us who we are, not what we do or how we get there. We share our stories and laugh at our foibles. But which highway or short-cut does not matter.

The journey is not about the conveyance but we who convey.