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Archive for December, 2014

No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it. (Paulo Coelho)

As usual, I’m eager to move to the next chore on my must-do-today list as my husband, Jay, gets a cup of coffee and continues to chat with fellow Y members. I sit quietly only when I am intent on an edit—or when complete weariness has almost knocked me over. He needs to socialize. My need to accomplish does not necessarily preempt his mission to celebrate the company of fellow senior citizens. I know my agenda needs flexibility, more smell-the-roses time. However, wind-up-and-go is my natural mode.

I intentionally breathe in and out slowly: breathe in to a count of five, out to a count of ten, a soul-cleansing effort. My list seems jumbled anyway. I’m not sure what I planned to do next, or what I have forgotten. I’m on auto-pilot and the plane may or may not have enough gas to get to my destination.

Then I notice Jay is talking to Nora, director of the senior programs at the Y. Nora has an attitude that brightens everyone around her. She is carrying a package. Jay motions to me to come and see it. I’m glad I didn’t insist that we leave the Y as soon as our class ended. The package is a present from Nora to Ella, a hand-made doll with a bright red crocheted dress and wrap. Nora and Ella are good friends. Our little girl has impressed Nora. Ella affects people without realizing it. Last month a young girl bought Ella a present at a rummage sale, because Ella had been charming. I think our youngest granddaughter’s extra chromosome has been misnamed; she has Up syndrome.

As I place the gift in the trunk of the car and prepare for our next errand, I sigh. My oh-so-essential list may or may not get completed. It does not matter. Have I made anyone smile today? Have I pointed out something good about a person that he or she hadn’t noticed? Have I spread a little sunshine, like Nora or like Ella do? Maybe those are the items I need to put first on my list.

To all, have a wonderful holiday.

 

A photo of Ella’s first printing, taken by another of her grandmothers, Alice. Maybe the E isn’t really backwards. It could be facing toward someone on the other side of where she stands.

Ella isn’t leaving anyone out!

Thanks for the photo, Alice!

first printing

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When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you. (Paulo Coelho)

Preschool and kindergarten-aged boys and girls in mismatched socks to designate left and right leg movements, sit facing a mirror with their instructors and occupational therapists. The kids’ families watch ballet class begin—this is recital day.

A couple of the class members react to the rhythm of the music. Others move to their own inner melodies. Some seem shy; others outgoing. One little girl runs as if the polished floor were a glossy playground. A man, probably her father, repeatedly brings her back into the group. All of the children have Down syndrome; none of them fit a pre-cut so-called handicapped pattern. They are unique individuals.

I watch and take pictures that are too fuzzy to save. Perhaps for me this moment can’t be held in a square frozen in time anyway. The program continues as Ella takes the hand of the girl who has been running freestyle and they explore movement through large, pastel-colored hoops. I envision the imaginations of these almost-dancers explode.

No, this isn’t ballet in the traditional sense—it doesn’t need to be. Actually, I need to control a perfectionism I see in myself. I begin each day with enthusiasm, carpe diem all the way. Then my eagerness morphs into frenzy. By noon my energy frizzles. I often jump through self-imposed hoops without enjoying the current moment.

Perhaps it is the perfectionism in me that sparks annoyance when someone needs to give every detail about her son or granddaughter’s perfect SAT scores. “That’s nice.” But if that story began with a struggle that has a survivor element in it, my interest rises. I’d rather hear about the child with a disability who made it despite the odds. Or the tale about how a loving home changed the life of a troubled teen. Sure, a natural ability is good, but what is being done with that talent—besides a claim to superiority?

These children in the ballet class and their families don’t make I’m-the-best statements. They don’t apologize either. In a poem I had published in “For a Better World 2012″ edited by Saad Ghosn, one stanza begins with:

My granddaughter has Down syndrome, I say.

I’m sorry, the reply.

I’m not, my answer.

As I read those direct-not-metaphorical lines at the public library in April I saw eyes widen, some with surprise, others with a smile. The folk with a smile either knew my little girl or they knew someone like her. They understood resilience, possibilities, not an extra chromosome.

Love has enormous power. Unfortunately it doesn’t come packaged in a neat Hallmark card. If it did utopia would be as common as MacDonald restaurants and ants at a picnic. Ella knows the word no and says it clearly. She can be as stubborn as any other child. However, she has a lot to offer the world, and so do the other children in this class.

I don’t need to understand what is happening as I relax and enjoy the moment; I only need to know that it is good, and that my first Christmas gift is in the form of a queue of children. They move in an awkward oblong shape while holding streams of white ribbon, grins escaping like sunshine through the inevitable solstice.

how awesome you are

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Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. (Jonathan Swift)

As I’m sorting the mountain of items on top of my dresser I find an old earring in a box of don’t-throw-out-yet-stuff—the mate was cracked and discarded in another decade. The relationship with the gentleman who gave it to me shattered long before the jewelry did. In another century. Admittedly I did not appreciate the gift at the time. It probably cost my fiancé more than I realized. But I needed to experience a profound personal loss to realize that the only reason I continued the relationship with this young man was because I didn’t think anyone else would ever take an interest in me. The two of us had nothing in common.

Now, as I discard that earring in the trash I forgive us for our ignorance. He had no idea how lost I felt at the time, and I had no way to explain the inside of a vacuum. My vision has changed; I suspect his has, too. He married someone else and so did I.

Now, many dark, bright, and muted-colored years later, my husband of 43 years plays Christmas music on our CD player while I clean. I recall Simon and Garfunkel’s Silent Night/7O’clock News from their “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” album of 1966. It appeared during my own difficult time. Crime reports and promises of continued war played in the background of gentle sound, a bizarre kind of counterpoint. In some ways not much has changed. The challenge of peace remains immense, even on a personal level.

Sure I like days where the sun shines with amiable warmth and I have enough time to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it. I doubt that these are the moments where I grow most, however. Chances are if my life had been cushioned in silk and affluence in a the-world-centers-around-me existence I wouldn’t appreciate innate beauty.

I wouldn’t smile all the way from my lips through my heart and into my gut every time Katie J. posts a new entry in her blog for Elysium. Kyle, like my Ella, has Down syndrome. Katie tells about the joys of her young son’s life, but she does not minimize the challenges. I appreciate her honesty, as well as the information she shares about Trisomy 21, what it affects and what it doesn’t. Both Kyle and Ella have a deep capacity for love without strings attached.

These are kids, scoffers may say. You can’t predict a life based on early cuteness. Yet, I have met adults with Down syndrome who have not lost the gift of innocent goodness. And it is a gift.

I think about that silly box on my dresser with mismatched, lost or broken pieces. This is probably the time to get rid of those useless attachments and become more like Ella and Kyle. Things will never make me happy. People-who-care can; they have. Knowing people who don’t have an agenda make discarding the past even easier.

happiness without a reason

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A man should always consider how much he has more than he wants and how much more unhappy he might be than he really is. (Joseph Addison)

A new song for my small church community runs through my mind. It fits for the last Sunday in November when I will be leading our service, but I haven’t played guitar in so long my electronic tuner needs a new battery. I gradually stopped practicing after an injection of Kenalog in my middle finger did nothing for bone-on-bone arthritis. My finger picking had become uneven, jerky, irritating even to an audience of one. Me.

But, I have been missing my old friend, music. She speaks directly into my soul through sound, mood, and harmony. The new words and chord transitions that are coming to me won’t stay in my memory unless I let my fingers know how to find the magical connections along the frets. I can still hold a pick—for now. My right hand has been gradually turning into a claw. I can’t flatten it as easily as I can my left. And  those fingers don’t look that straight either. Maybe the hand doctor will bring some hope when I see him on Friday. Maybe.

In the meantime my Big Baby Taylor fits my short frame well. Big Baby is not a person, and therefore is incapable of human resentment. It doesn’t care that I left it in a gig bag for months at a time. Sure it is seriously out of tune. But a turn of a few keys and an enthusiastic greeting will renew our relationship. As I consider lyrics I realize that keep-it-simple is essential, in both message and style. Words like I-love-you may be ordinary, but a two-year-old understands what they mean.

When I accept less-than-perfect I’m ready to go. The finished song appears using four chords in a major key. And in between each beat I consider all the people in my life who struggle: I just learned about someone who has non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and waits for a transplant. A very young woman discovered she has advanced cancer; Stories about inequities everywhere seem to rise from the ground and fall from the sky. I’m not sure I know anyone unaffected in some way.

Yet, if I never experienced darkness I’m not sure I could appreciate light. Perhaps the struggle to control my hands makes the sound they create sweeter—not in an accomplished sense—in a spiritual way.

The first verse to my song: ONE LIGHT is not written for any particular religion. The first verse is printed below. I aspire to live the Dalai Lama’s definition: “My religion is kindness.” Someday I may be able to share the finished work through YouTube. Right now my performance needs entirely too much practice.

Who knows? Maybe I will succeed. Maybe not. I know someone who plays exquisite guitar without several of his fingertips. Grandma Moses was 85-years-old when she started to paint. Right now I’m assuming that my hands will heal, or that I will find a way to maneuver with what I have.

One light can shine through darkest times.

One light can pierce great fear.

One love can touch a heart of stone,

And teach it how to sing.

Peace and light upon all!

believing something amazing is about to happen

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