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Archive for September, 2014

 Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” (Ann Landers)

Four more hours to wait at the Philadelphia airport. September 25, 2014. Our last flight landed around noon. Although the numbness settling through me makes time seem like an illusion. Jay and I sit in the restaurant area. I read, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, and my husband loads our vacation photos onto our faulty laptop using Wi-Fi that fades in and out with the reliability of a light bulb with old, frayed wiring.

At least my book is riveting, a tale told from the point of view of a dog with twice the wisdom of a human being. Enzo approaches the end of his life and anticipates re-entry on the earth as a man. The notion does not come from his imagination. In Mongolia a dog is buried on top of a mountain so that no one can step on his grave. If the dog is ready, and worthy, he can return as a human being. Enzo is ready. He has learned and served well.

I would like a taste of Enzo’s understanding about the meaning of life as I stop to look at my watch, again, and then see how my mate is faring with our laptop. An attractive young woman pauses close to the table where I am sitting. She surveys the area.

“You can sit here,” I say gesturing to the chair across from me. “I’m just taking up space while reading. We’ll be here a while. Our flight has been delayed. Twice.”

“Mine has been canceled,” she answers.

“Don’t you just love it?” My question is both rhetorical and sarcastic. I don’t expect a response.

“No,” she answers. “I have an appointment at eight tomorrow morning.”

I mark my place and close my book. I learn that this young woman has an appointment to get into medical school at Yale. She asks how far it would be to drive to New Haven. Jay looks it up on the computer—it responds in almost reasonable time: a three-hour drive.

The young woman says she hasn’t eaten all day; it is now after 4:00PM. She chooses a salad and eats first before calling for a rental car. I hear her name as she calmly makes arrangements on her cell phone with the rental service, but I’m not relaying that information here; I don’t have her permission. However, I choose to remember it because I connect her with the unflinching control she exhibited during an untenable situation.

“Thanks for your help,” she says.

“You are welcome.”

“I guess my little drama puts a perspective on your wait.”

I smile, the toothless kind that holds back more feeling than I want to show. The wisdom I discover in “Racing in the Rain” stands before me in a young woman with both determination and perspective.

“During your interview you can tell them you have resilience,” Jay says.

I nod, wishing resilience were as contagious as a virus. I should be the one thanking you, I think as she disappears down the long, echoing hallways of the airport…

dancing in the rain PIQ

 

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Art is partly communication, but only partly. The rest is discovery. (William Golding, novelist, playwright, poet, Nobelist, 1911-1993)

If this airplane were a roller coaster I would be clutching the sides of my seat and gritting my teeth until they were ground to the gum line. I would not be screaming because it multiplies my terror instead of dissipating it. The edges of cliffs or even a mezzanine with a low railing are not my friends. However, as I buckle-up inside an airplane I’m exhilarated, not intimidated. As the plane rises, surreal beauty appears outside the window. Reality takes on a different form when seen from above the clouds. Neat. Manageable. Set into squares that mimic a child’s crossword puzzle—with interchangeable pieces.

The outline of streets, trees, buildings, livestock and lives melt away. I take a picture from the window shortly after we take off from the Dayton airport, the beginning of an adventure, also called a family wedding and vacation.

The scientist could explain the view below in exact, predictable, discernible, terms. I value learning about how the universe works. However, my natural perception tends toward the artistic and spiritual—I am viewing the metaphorical.

I look at the vague blocks and circles of green or brown below. They remind me of rigid opinions. Whenever people are lumped together behind a false label, faces disappear: all poor people are lazy, sloppy, and ignorant; the individual born with a disability couldn’t possibly have talents. All Republicans are money-hungry; all Democrats are fanatical leftists. But, I don’t want to stay with the negativity of false images, even if the metaphor feels valid.

So, I look into the circles and blocks of color below and discover unity despite chaos. Destruction, construction, gardens, landfills, saplings, boulders, sewers, fresh water, predators, and saints join to form uniform patterns. I consider the value of relaxing and letting go. I can never be a pseudo grand-puppeteer. I believe a Higher Power exists; I suspect I’m not suited for the job.

The flight attendant begins the standard safety instructions. Our journey through the sky continues. In a few hours the action below will reveal itself again. I pray to step into the confusion of the next airport with a sense of confidence, with a knowledge that all can be well in its own way. I am a part of the universe; the universe is a part of me.

air shot

 

 

 

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Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. (Teddy Roosevelt)                      

I am in the process of returning the smaller items to their place in our house after our floors were refinished: the good dishes, books, our beloved wooden bird collection, and family photos. Our second floor storage area is temporarily in danger of mimicking scenes from Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle. Trish, the main character, is threatened with the possibility of losing custody of her son, injured by boxes stacked to the ceiling—although she will not admit that she is a hoarder. She doesn’t have time to organize. She tells her son, “Mommy isn’t perfect.” Her son accepts their life as normal.

No one, fictional or shouting into a microphone over public media, has arrived at a be-all, know-all state. My husband and I could have hurried less when we shuffled our possessions out of the way of the going-to-be-there-tomorrow work crew. However, we were also packing for a trip to the west coast as well as babysitting for our youngest granddaughter. Now I look at the boxes, stored by what I could name the Helter-Skelter-Give-It-To-Us-And-We’ll-Lose-It Storage Company­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­. Where should I start? One step at a time seems the only way to go. If I attempt to embrace the whole I could give up before beginning. I have decided to simplify, choose only a few items for the windowsills, breakfront, and coffee table. But which items?

To discover what matters and what doesn’t—this is my current focus. As I read Riggle’s story I see layers unveiled: dirty corners inside rooms and hurt corners inside lives. I can view a situation and think I know what is there, yet be unaware of how the essence of it works. Deciding what goes where is relatively simple; why people do what they do may or may not be.

I decide not to rush. The need is no longer present. The floors are finished and gleaming. On the haphazard second floor I am mining for gold; there is treasure in this pile of stuff. In a corner I find a pitcher painted by my husband’s grandmother. I never met her. She died long before I dated my husband. Her work is exquisite. She stopped painting after she married. As an individual with a creative nature I am saddened that she saw it as an interference in her role as wife and mother.

There is no point in investigating what cannot be changed, except perhaps through a wildly disguised fictional story. Her beautiful pitcher hid on top of our breakfront for years before we had our floors refinished. I decide to give her work prominent placement, closer to the bright floor, to where we live—a metaphor for cleaning-up the basics first, choosing the best and starting from there.

As I position the art on the open surface I pray that I live each day well enough that I leave something good in a corner that repels the dust and shines out.  Distant tomorrows are not my business. Using this moment well, is.

 

Isabelle's pitcher

 

 

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I am different, not less. (Temple Grandin)

 If I could I would shout Temple Grandin’s statement across the Internet, national news forecasts, and local gossip networks: “I am different, not less.” Autism did not prevent Grandin from earning a doctorate degree. Actually, when I grow up I hope to be just like my youngest granddaughter, Ella. She has Down syndrome.

Some people turn away when they see someone with a disability like Down syndrome, as if the tripled twenty-first chromosome were contagious, or as if communication with an individual with a rounded face and slightly slanted eyes were similar to interaction with an alien from another planet. Organizations such as the National Down Syndrome Society have helped alter that notion. Efforts to change attitudes toward folk with other disabilities continue. The Autism Society explains how a person with autism perceives reality.

I have to admit that I have learned more from Ella than she has learned from me!

Our little girl has charisma. Her mission begins with a smile that reaches into the heart, an acceptance that doesn’t judge. When Daddy and Cousin Kate stopped by the daycare center to take Ella on a trip to visit her great-grandmother, the other children formed a circle around her, keeping Ella captive. They were unwilling to relinquish their princess. Daddy needed to trick the children into a race so that he could grab his daughter and run.

Ella does not present herself as better—or less—than anyone else. True, her life has barely begun; she needs to double her age to reach double-digits, but I have never seen any signs of ego, impatience, or striking-out-in-uncontrolled-anger. Oh, she knows the word no and uses it often, but not as a weapon. She seeks independence the way any other child does.

Our granddaughter has had three surgeries, two that were serious; she is terrified of medical settings. However, after each visit she recovers into her smiling self with remarkable speed. She lives in each moment; now is the only time that offers usable power.

I study a photo of the toddler son of a friend. He, too, has Down syndrome. He has had multiple surgeries. Nevertheless, he grins at the camera as he waits for his breakfast. I think about how few adults would respond with such enthusiasm. Not only would they be repeating poor me as if it were a refrain in a popular song, they would be wondering why they had to wait to be served, considering all they need to endure. Most folk with a tripled chromosome don’t see themselves with the sun rotating around their needs.

I catch myself fussing with a bouncing cursor that reminds me of a drunk fly circling spilled honey; my irritation almost reaches uncontrolled cursing of another kind. This should not happen!

Yeah, well, I’ll figure it out, eventually. In the meantime, today is a day to celebrate, September 8, 2014. Ella is five-years-old. (Posting won’t happen today, however. I need a day or so to let the words settle before I edit them. I cannot claim perfection on any level. I don’t even feel free to be totally me no matter where I am; Ella is still giving me lessons in that area.)

I am sharing a photo of her birthday cake, not because it is beautiful, but because it is delicious inside and a tad ordinary on the outside. I have never taken a decorating class and probably won’t—I have a tendency to eat too much of the art form. The layer-fit alone disqualifies my creation from any cooking magazine, but I bake from scratch and the frosting contains fresh strawberry.

Happy Birthday, Ella! May we celebrate the differences that make any ordinary individual spectacular.

Ella's birthday cake, five years old

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I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. (Mark Twain)

In the wee hours of the morning a six-point earthquake hits the Napa Valley; San Francisco responds with some twitches strong enough to sway a skyscraper. Jay and I are on the eleventh floor of a hotel—we sleep through the rocking. We don’t discover what we missed until the next morning at breakfast when the other members of our tour tell us what happened. Many of our fellow travelers wondered if the building was cracking. We haven’t been watching the news, and we don’t plan to follow it; this is our vacation.

However, the wine tasting event, next on the agenda, is canceled. The roads to Sonoma are torn like cheap cardboard. Since I drink un-fermented juice, I’m not as disappointed as some other folk could be. I had planned to celebrate the artistic twist of the vine and the shine of the grape against the sun. Fortunately the wine drinkers have a sense of perspective. They show greater concern for the people affected by the quake. I don’t hear any grumbling.

Our adventure has barely begun. A car fire on the expressway ignites a wildfire that closes a major expressway—the one leading to our next stay.

Our tour director, Craig Cherry, maintains a sense of humor. He and our superb driver, Jeannie Williams, map out another route, hours out of our way.

Then comes strike three, more literal than anyone would like. A rock flies from a truck into the windshield of the bus. Tiny shards fly everywhere. One hits the leg of a front-row passenger. She is too shocked to react. The window crack grows from a small line into a much larger one. The window could shatter at any time.

Jeannie and Craig find a close convenient store large enough for us to wait until a new bus arrives. The wait in ninety-nine-degree Fresno is amazingly short. While our tour guide and bus driver work we build camaraderie: jokes; shared life stories and ice cream; unusual items on the shelves; “Can you believe this gizmo makes popcorn in your car?”

When the remote control to the DVD player is missing batteries, Craig announces, “I’ve got to be on Candid Camera!” We are all old enough to remember the program. Fortunately, someone toward the back of the bus has two double AA’s.

By the time we arrive at our destination we aren’t comfortable. We’re stiff, tired, and a bit dazed. But, chances are that if any one of us are asked if we remember the Globus California  Tour of late August, 2014, we will smile and say, “Oh, yeah!” with a smile the size of the state. Sometimes bad circumstances bring out the best in people. Thanks to Craig for his leadership. A little humor and a lot of patience make all the difference.

(photo taken from the bus of a burned section of forest, fire caused by a lightning strike)

burned forest in California

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