Archive for November, 2015

Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. (Richard P. Feynman)

But I do wonder why. A friend is suffering, fighting for her life. The cause of her illness appears to be random. She is young, with two elementary-school-aged girls. Another person I care about is going through chemotherapy for stage-three breast cancer. Beauty, ugliness, life, death, intertwine. Colors bleed into one another. They rarely remain sterile. Each horizon appears slightly different even in the same location. One same-tint batch of paint may differ slightly from the next batch.

I know this. Yet, I get caught up in either tragedy or joy as if either one were the whole of life. During a water aerobics class one day another woman and I talk. She asks how my book is doing. I tell her it’s okay as far as I know. Several copies of “The Curse Under the Freckles” are available through the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Eventually, of course, my beautiful grandchildren slip into the conversation. I mention the fun trips I have had with my husband. When I stop long enough to ask about my exercise partner’s life I discover she won’t be having a fun Thanksgiving. She is having surgery, to repair a previously botched surgery. She lives in constant pain.

This time I need to listen. Both ears open, my lips sealed. I remember a phrase used for a children’s class that made me smile at the time: This is my time to talk and your time to listen. Except now the advice is reversed. I stand close, watch every movement she makes.

I place both of my hands on my pool partner’s shoulders and wish her well. For now this is all I can give. She smiles.

The songs presented by Dan Erdman in his most recent Oasis evening come back to me as I leave the water. Dan’s music focuses on the positive, on the real power of love. Sometimes I hum softly as he plays and stifle the desire to belt it out. Occasionally there are moments when all are invited to join in. Then I feel uplifted, engaged. All of it is good.

Dan’s wife, Marcia, is a dear friend. She accepts me at the core of my being, both the places that express savvy and those that need work. She is the most intuitive person I know.

Needs-work seems to be the human condition. And I love people who readily admit they fit into the imperfect category. Together we can explore the world, find the beauty in a decaying leaf, a breaking body, an unpleasant surprise, and pain. We can celebrate with love, even if we don’t recognize the experience as love at the time. Perhaps it is difficult or downright ordinary. I’m not sure that depth can be seen from inside one moment anyway. I think it needs the context of time and distance. And we can’t do that alone. I know I can’t.

Thanks to all my friends along the adventurous path called life.

life challenges PIQ


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Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance. (Charles A. Lindbergh)

Strange how memories hit when they are least expected. I’m looking into the mirror at my 69-year-old self. I remember seeing the same younger face at least 53 years earlier. The scene is in my parents’ bedroom at my mother’s vanity. And I’m trying to turn my thin, curl-resistant hair into the bouffant my peers wear. I know nothing about regularly scheduled haircuts. That could help. But the money for such frivolities isn’t in the family budget.

However, the expression I recall is not mine but my mother’s, reflected behind me. She’s exasperated with her superficial daughter, focused on appearance. I admit the color is fine, a bright strawberry blond, but the gold never reaches below the follicles, into my scalp, into my being. I believe what my classmates have told me since first grade. I am the outsider. The kid with names that come with a taunt.

Mom complains that she has taught me to be a larger-minded girl, a Ten-Commandments person. I cut my rant short, but a deeper less-than has set in. I put down both the comb and my own sense of self as well.

My mother did what she believed was right. I don’t blame her. On an intellectual level she had a point. However, perspective needs to be discovered through example and experience, not imposed.

Now I look into the mirror in my own bedroom. My hair is cut short to avoid a need to style. I no longer care about beauty. Don’t ask me about fashion; I don’t follow the trends. And I don’t apologize for my wrinkles. They carry experience. Some of that experience continues to be incredible. Some of it cracked me more than I want to admit. Some of what-I-carry-from-the-past involved others’ hurts. And I couldn’t always help.

But the holes are what create the beauty in lace, the negative space in art, the places that force a person to recognize need. The cracks are where the light shines through. And I’m not sure I am sorry about the difficult times. They taught me to look into the eyes of another person and see more similarities than differences.

Moreover, I had good friends along the way. I meet with some of them every week—others less often. But I know I am not alone. Not an outcast. The notion is an illusion.

I have learned to rewrite the script and speak for a mother who didn’t know what to say, to ask questions to get to the real issues. “Yes, I know this is important to you now. However, this is the gift I see in this moment…”

Then, perhaps, any mirror could reflect more than an image that appears backwards, and permit possibilities. I can’t say I know where they will go. I don’t. Today’s landscape shows no more than a few clouds along the horizon, never within reach, always changing. Always, always changing.

beauty of the broken

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Children don’t need much advice, but they really do need to be listened to and not just with half an ear. (Emma Thompson)

Eight-year-old Rebe and I have a girl-bonding day. We are mermaids at the YMCA Water Park. Young mermaids! I need a lot more imagination than she does to fill this role. She explains the scenario and I follow, adding as much absurdity as I can.

The pool is divided into sections. Upper-class kid mermaids swim in the larger, shallow, easy-to-manage section. The lower class lives in the slightly deeper territory. I tell her I can’t fathom wealth, so I will tread water. (I prefer this area anyway.)

Of course her game morphs and she spends most of the time in the freer kicking space. She can swim. I celebrate listening to her banter. She doesn’t want to leave as the time grows closer.

“One more minute.” She raises one finger. Then she smiles. “Five more minutes?”

Rush-hour traffic isn’t going to get any better one way or another. Dinner is semi-prepared. Daddy won’t be picking her up for two and one-half hours.

“Five more minutes,” I say.

She grins.

Then a tall, slender woman pushes a young man in a wheelchair into the water. The young man is paralyzed. Rebe watches as the woman, smiling, pulls him from the chair and works his arms and legs through the warmed water.

“Therapy?” Rebe asks in a soft voice.

“I think so.”

“Or fun?”

“Maybe that, too.”

A huge man with skin the color of milk chocolate enters the water. He helps. I think about what a good idea his presence is. His size and strength could be helpful getting the young man back into the chair. The thin, pale woman and the large man laugh and joke with the younger man. I see the paralyzed man bat his hand at them. A response, probably enormous judging by the cheer of his two helpers.

“Therapy,” Rebe repeats. “Or maybe they are family.”

I pause taking in the beauty of my granddaughter. The two assistants look nothing alike. Yet, Rebe and I both know families—more than one—with a father the color of dark honey, fresh graham crackers, or gourmet licorice, and a mother as pale as apple blossoms or an unpicked peach. Rebe looks inside to who an individual is. The outside is secondary. She goes to a school where color is superficial; I live in a neighborhood where skin colors match the picture below.

Probably not, I think. “Maybe,” I answer.

I tell Rebe it is time to go back to my house. Grandpa is waiting for us. But I am grateful for those five extra minutes. They brought a larger gift than 300 extra seconds in pool water.

skin colored crayons

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I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end. (Simone de Beauvoir)

As autumn puts on the last of its show I remember the mini-vacation Jay and I took at Hocking Hills. I walked the trails and paid no attention to that silver band around my wrist with the tiny clock on it—I could have been wearing my watch upside down. It wouldn’t have mattered.

Perhaps that freedom gave me the illusion that utopia existed, at least somewhere; I felt healthy, young, my chi as vitalized as it had been when I said I-do in July of 1971, when I felt as if I would be age 25 forever, continuously renewed. In Hocking Hills nature and I seemed unified. Beauty appeared in every direction.

The real world has returned. Another YMCA friend faces chemo and then radiation. A fellow writer friend fights for her life in an out-of-state hospital. I discover that several people aren’t doing as well as I had hoped. My sister-in-law has been to hell and back again. Her attitude, however, glows. She encourages others. She lives the life-explanation Francis Weller explores in the October issue of Sun Magazine, The Geography of Sorrow. Pain and loss, joy and peace co-exist in order to create a complete existence.

In our American society we expect to begin and end with perfect emotional control. Weller analyzes our bias against public grief. I read the article so slowly it took me several days to absorb each word.

I think about this again as my two older grandchildren, my husband, and I watch Where Hope Grows. The girls have already seen the movie. Rebe and Kate are only eight and eleven years old. Yet, they get it. They suggested the movie. Not every reviewer agrees. The creators made the mistake of using the word, God. However, I recognize more showing than telling, more action than preaching.

Calvin Campbell has sought the answer to life through drink. His choices inevitably fail him and he goes to Produce, a young man with Down syndrome, for the secret to his happiness. An unexpected story unfolds.

My granddaughters know how tragedy looks and feels. Kate’s friend fell through a patch of ice when she was three-years-old; the friend is permanently disabled. I wrote about it in a poem I titled Chrysalis. It was originally published by Saad Ghosn in the annual anthology, “For a Better World 2012.” It will be reprinted in Piker Press on November 23. 

The girls also know how to love. When their young cousin Ella sees them she is ecstatic. She talks about them often. Ella, of course, like Produce in Where Hope Grows, knows the secret of happiness. She is satisfied to be herself. She accepts the moment, and lives it fully.

Perhaps full joy isn’t found in happily-ever-after dreams. It lives in the mundane, the muck, the malformed, and the miracles revealed through inside-out transformation. Into the whole.

strong people don't have easy pasts

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The soul is healed by being with children. (Fyodor Doskoevsky)

Halloween. And I offer to stay at my son Steve’s house to wash dishes. But his girlfriend Cece says, “Let’s all go. I will wash the dishes when we get back. Then you relax and play with Ella.” Cece doesn’t want me to miss out on the fun.

And fun is only the beginning. “Candy. Look. More candy,” Ella exclaims after she has stopped at only a few houses. Her costume is inexpensive and hand-wash-only fragile, the kid-popular, Doc McStuffins. However, Ella’s sweet smile brings her extra treats at several stops.

At first she approaches each house with her bag behind her back. Then she eagerly opens it with an excited “trick-or-treat.” Her cautious move has become a run. The neighborhood knows how to celebrate. Groups gather outside with bonfires, cackling witches, lit pumpkins. Kids fill the streets. Two children are in wheel chairs. I pause to say Happy Halloween, but don’t linger for conversation. Tonight is the time for action.

“Look,” Ella says to passers-by. She opens her bag and displays her treasures with pride. No one chides her or mentions that she has special needs.

At one house an empty chair blocks the sidewalk, but the front door is open. Ella runs toward the golden-glow space inside the house. The empty chair signals my intuition. I decide to follow her. An elderly man answers.

“Oh dear,” he says. Apparently his wife, who should be holding down the fort, has left with the treats.

Instead of responding with disappointment or anger Ella reaches into her bag and pulls out a box of candy. The man doesn’t understand at first. Then he realizes that Ella is sharing from her bounty.

His wife arrives and gives Ella a few extra pieces. Our little girl grins. Wearing her gratitude on her face.

As Ella descends the stairs toward Daddy, Cece, and Grandpa I tell the couple that our granddaughter with Down syndrome has had two open heart surgeries. She is resilient. Her open heart touches anyone who will recognize her gift.

The man has tears in his eyes. He did not accept Ella’s candy. He did receive her touch of love. And all Ella needed to do was to be Ella.

And I am grateful to Cece, too. Sure, I would have been happy to stay back at Daddy’s house, wash dishes and hand out candy. Instead I have the privilege of watching beauty in action.

The plates and utensils wait until we came back. Ella does not fuss when Daddy does not allow her to have all of her bounty at once. She savors each bite. I hope to learn how to savor each moment, too.

learning from children morning coach


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