Archive for November, 2014

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. (Robert Louis Stevenson, novelist, essayist, and poet, 1850-1894) 

I decide to let my two older grandchildren know their overnight visit is important by serving their breakfast on our good china.

However, I am in more of a hurry than I realize. One of my husband’s favorite gold-edged beer glasses falls and shatters on our hardwood floor as soon as I unlatch the cabinet door.

“Oh, oh, got a delay here,” I say, although that isn’t really what I am thinking. Irritation wants to rise and boil inside me—at my lack of awareness, at my eagerness to bite off more than I can chew.

Fortunately my husband doesn’t complain. He simply suggests vacuuming as well as sweeping, and I tell the girls that shoes are a must right now, whether they match their jammies or not.

“What’s a delay?” seven-year-old Rebe asks.

“It means something isn’t going to happen exactly on time,” I say.

Rebe doesn’t appear to completely understand.

“You know,” ten-year-old Kate says. “When it snows we have a two-hour delay. That means school starts later.”

I’m distracted; Kate uses examples her little sister recognizes. I’m grateful for my number-one granddaughter’s explanation. I turned down the heat on the stove before I grabbed the broom. But without saying a word, Kate has made the texture of our scrambled eggs look terrific. And I thank her for her helpfulness.

I think about how easily this moment could have gone downhill. I was upset that my plans were interrupted by my own clumsiness. And I was one-frayed-hair-away from allowing a long stream of inappropriate language from destroying the atmosphere.

At a settled, much more comfortable time later, I consider how strange life can be. In our culture we deify the perfect score on a test, the body with the ideal BMI, the quintessential existence that fits on a travel magazine cover, but never inside a real-life experience. Yet, the sequoia, the oldest and largest tree on earth, depends upon fire to flourish. Fire prepares the soil and allows the seed to germinate. Individuals who have always been coddled curdle when they discover the sun doesn’t revolve around their needs. Plants need a balance of both sun and rain to grow.

Somehow I suspect that the human being needs just enough imperfection to be real. A flower, a tomato, or an oak isn’t promised fruition by any single seed. Perhaps that is why we need so many of them. And thank goodness life offers more than one patience-test. A pass-fail system would put most of us in jeopardy.

planting seeds

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We are a landscape of all we have seen. (Isamu Naguchi, sculptor and architect, 1904-1988) 

 As I enter the lab for routine blood tests I see the phlebotomist, a physician from Pakistan working her way into the U.S. system, talking to someone getting ready to leave the building. The two women laugh and embrace like old friends. Apparently they have been sharing similar life experiences. Their meeting has been a blessed serendipity.

I think about unexpected moments I have had: encouragement from unlikely sources, the answer to a pesky problem when I hadn’t brought up the subject, a story about overcoming tragedy when I need a dose of courage.

In fact, before a water aerobics class I talk to a fellow Y member who tells me his sister died from a brain tumor when she was three. He admits that the experience was not easy for him, but he does not speak as if that event exists now—only that it happened. His childhood journey had its metaphorical rocks and broken glass.

The chlorinated water soothes me as the class kicks and jumps and makes waves. Actually this hour wouldn’t be much fun without the action. And life would be pretty gosh-darned boring without its difficulties. Although in the everyday-doing I would like to spare my youngest granddaughter open-heart surgery. My right hand, gnarled with arthritis, would uncurl and flex with ease, not work toward tightening into a claw. I’m fighting that; I have an appointment with a hand specialist soon.

In the meantime I plan to write as much as I always do and let the warm pool water embrace my body and spirit whenever possible. I let the relaxing movement remind me of the gifts I have been given: My youngest granddaughter will not teach nuclear physics to a select elite—she will teach anyone who meets her about love and acceptance. My middle granddaughter exudes imagination, humor, and honesty. My oldest granddaughter spreads enthusiasm and determination. Last week my oldest granddaughter and I talked about how difficult it is for celebrities to maintain perspective when they are viewed as center-of-the-universe figures. I am impressed. She sees with depth, not a me-me-me attitude.

Two women on the other side of the pool laugh; they wave at me. I met the beauty of who they are last week. The landscape of all I have seen expands. I pray to use those gifts well.

knowing darkness before knowing light Optimism Revolution

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Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. (Stephen Covey)

 My husband, younger son, youngest granddaughter and I have traveled across two states to visit my 94-year-old mother-in-law. Daylight has barely replaced darkness as Ella climbs onto the foot of her great grandmother’s bed. Nana is awake; she greets her, and then closes her eyes again. Ella leans toward her. “Wake up!”

Great grandmother shows no sign of hearing. She sleeps most of the time. After Nana rouses she complains that the little girl was something of a pain. However, she doesn’t seem to hold a grudge. The two adore one another. I have no doubt that Ella sees into the older woman’s spirit and recognizes a need for a laugh or two before she moves into another dimension, whenever that time arrives. Nana was in hospice care, and then improved. She is one tenacious lady.

I have heard that people in the last stages of life appear to be unresponsive, but they hear every sound. I decide to be quieter as I work in the kitchen, bang fewer pots as I dry them, raise my voice only when absolutely necessary—or when I share something uplifting about Nana’s life.

I feel the spirit of late Midwestern autumn during this visit. The wind blows the last of the tenacious don’t-wanna-let-go-yet leaves from one yard to another. Most deciduous trees are bare, or sparse. The red and yellow patterns have already turned to a crisp brown, ready to be crushed underfoot, dissolving along with the experiences of past seasons. Winter is inevitable. Nothing lasts forever.

In Nana’s room Ella pretends to be a bear, growling as Nana responds with feigned fear. “Save me! I’m so scared.”

Wild Woman has replaced Wild Man, my name for her daddy as he was growing up. And we celebrate both past and present, even as time moves on an inevitable course. I wonder if time were unlimited how much of it I would savor, how much I would waste. At age twenty-five my youth seemed invincible. My head knew clocks don’t travel in reverse except in fantasy. But the days until my next vacation seemed as uncountable as slender grains of rice. Old age lived in the next century, an era beginning in the year 2000—as far away as Jupiter or Mars. Now that year has passed. I’m not sure when I will embrace the term old. But I know each moment is important and must be used well.

So I tell my mother-in-law that I chose to spend more time with my grandchildren because she had chosen to spend time with my children. She showed me how beautiful and strong the bond with a young person could become.

Ella smiles and reaches for me. We will be sitting next to one another during the drive back across two states. I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion.

decorate life with colors

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You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. (Albert Camus)

As I get into the car to pick up my number-one granddaughter from school I wonder how much energy I have left in this sixty-eight-year-old body. Hopefully, I’ll last through the hour and a half before Kate’s music lesson. However, Kate’s enthusiasm is contagious. She continues in high gear to tell me about school events, and she doesn’t soften the blow about the difficult moments. I am grateful for my new hearing aids and for a restaurant that isn’t exceptionally noisy as she tells me about unfair situations that affect other kids and how she discerns her part in helping. Her wisdom shows restraint as well as concern, the ability to know when to jump in and when to wait for a safer, more effective moment.

Every freckle on her face glows and I revel in her fresh beauty.

I am now awake, aware; chances to learn surround me. Sometimes those moments are pure gift, the opportunity to simply say thank you. My most recent short story at Piker Press, Return of the Goldfinch, was published one day before a long-time friend’s brother died. Judy had taken care of her brother in her home during his final days. The story comforted her. While I can be grateful for that, the greater gift is my awareness of a friend who gave her home to a brother who could give nothing of material value back. Judy gives because she is Judy. I am blessed because I know her. My spirit awakens as I think about her. She gave her brother the opportunity to fly from a weakened body. In peace.

My youngest granddaughter, Ella, has led me toward the narrower, higher path since the day she was born. I had the notion that I would spend my day writing to my heart’s content. Page upon page would pour from my spirit because I had just retired. Time could now be mine! A divine higher power had other plans. Ella was born seven weeks early, with Down syndrome; she would need two surgeries before leaving the hospital. A giraffe bed in an intensive care unit was her first home. Since her parents needed to return to work I was among the chosen caregivers. Not only did my spirit deepen so that I could write on a more effective level, I made a new friend—an infant who would become my teacher.

In fact, when Ella was barely crawling, my husband was watching a movie too violent for me. One scene came painfully close to my own experience. That long-ago incident does not need to be relayed  here, but as the drama unfolded I gasped as if I were the young woman on the screen, as if time had removed almost fifty years of my life in the flash of a movie frame. Ella climbed into my lap. She looked directly into my eyes as if to say, Look at me, not into the past. And I saw such beauty and compassion in my granddaughter’s eyes that I knew wisdom lived inside this child. I felt blessed to be in her world.

Yes, the narrow road ahead that involved her care would be difficult. Not everyone would understand that a child with special needs gives more than the cost entails.

Easy isn’t always better.

I suspect that if I had taken a nap instead of spent time with my oldest granddaughter on this ordinary Wednesday afternoon, I would have awakened groggier than ever. And this train of thought would have never begun.

I wonder what opportunities tomorrow will bring. But that is on tomorrow’s agenda.

conquer fear beginning of wisdom narrow bridge

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Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. (Charles Swindoll)

Several weeks ago a woman at the Y’s Waterpark complained to me that I carried my granddaughter through an adults-only-time section a few minutes before that time ended. The lifeguard on duty apologized to me for her rudeness. Apparently she ranted further when her husband arrived. Although that same woman returned my intentional I’m-not-taking-this-personally smile later in the locker room, my heart had not forgotten the incident, and I had her pegged as a chronic complainer.

Now weeks later I see her again at the park. At first I avoid her. But, I do not want to limit the space I can move because of one person and a maybe-encounter. Besides, I could be wrong. The woman is in the swirling whirlpool center inside the walking channel. Ella wants to explore the shallow edge by the wall. The woman is sitting against one side. She is not facing us. When my granddaughter gets close to the woman I grab my little girl and begin several pretend games. We fly across a lake as birds; then we cross in make-believe boats, as if the area the woman fills were huge and not the space any one ordinary-sized human being can take up. Finally, Ella pauses and says, “hi.” At first the woman does not respond.

To be expected, I think, and then reach for my precious girl. Then the woman turns around. “You were here with your grandfather last week weren’t you?” she asks Ella in a pleasant voice.

Ella says nothing so I respond. “Yes,” I answered. “She was.”

“And we tossed ball together.”

I remember a small green rubber ball Jay brought last week. One week Jay takes an exercise class during this time; the next week I do. (Our first choice is spending time with Ella.)

“I think Ella remembers you,” I say.

And suddenly this woman and I are talking as if we were old friends. A little girl with very little language has taught me another lesson about being open to other people, not making snap judgments based on incomplete evidence.

“Have a blessed day,” I say as the woman leaves the Waterpark area. My day has already been touched by the extraordinary.

first impressions words to inspire the soul

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