Archive for July, 2016

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. (Carlos Santana, musician)

Occasionally as I swivel in my desk chair away from the computer, I see an unframed black-and-white photo of me taken when I was in perhaps seventh grade. The private school uniform is a huge clue. The hair-style is late nineteen-fifties curlers. And I can be certain that the artificial rolls collapsed by noon, if not sooner.

Most of my memories from those days have disappeared as well.

The girl in the picture is a shy, unsophisticated girl, favorite place to go, the library. She is insecure in groups. Yet capable. At least in my head, I tell her my stories as I write them—as if she didn’t already exist somewhere inside this much older body. I wonder if she hears me.

me St. Dominic school

For a writer the internal and the external world need to meet. Perhaps these forces will never understand one another completely. For me, if open hearts and peace appear along the way, I have touched my purpose. At least for the duration of a page.

When my older son was a toddler my husband and I planted a blue spruce tree in our front yard. The tree was a gift from my son’s great uncle. It was my son’s tree. Years later the tree became the front yard and housed birds of all colors and varieties.

Then disease, fungi, spider mites attacked the tree. With the help of a huge cash loss, the spruce survived. Not all of its branches made it. For the bird residents the effect became more patio than closed door. No safe place away from predators.

But, the tree never has held a promise of safety. We have always seen feathers and dead birds in the yard. Cooper hawks. Preying cats, waiting.

I pause and look again at the long-ago picture of twelve-year-old me. Knowing the young girl doesn’t see the present. I remember how she walked home from school alone after a difficult day of taunting. How she prayed and wondered how the saints managed. Those characters had been presented as emotionless beings. The martyr, St. Lawrence, said as he was being burned to death: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” Is that true? Really? Then came saints who levitated and spoke to larger-than-life beings beyond the grave.

I tell her about the very ordinary tree and tell her to stay inside the very ordinary day. The beauty is all around her. In some ways I want to spare her more serious attacks to come, the pain, the pruning that will inevitably follow. I cannot. Any more than I can bring back birds killed by the Cooper Hawk.

“Paths through branches are now open. Free. You may not have wings. But you can still fly.” I’m surprised. I have spoken out loud. And I pray that my words carry peace.

blue spruce before and after

blue spruce before and after


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Think for a minute, darling: in fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window. (Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife)

The scene below could be an exploded toy box. A definite trip hazard. But, Ella has a plan in mind. She has decided today is Mickey Mouse’s birthday, a favorite theme. Bunny is his best friend. The building blocks represent a work in progress—for Mickey. The lumps of Play-Doh, albeit dry, are the blue dog’s food.

Each item has a purpose in play. However, the whole gets Grandma a little dizzy. I anticipate work for both me and the vacuum cleaner. Sure, the old table cloth is present for a reason. But its surface could be compared to a mesh bag. Not really suitable for holding items smaller than the holes. My beloved rug is at risk.

Sure, I could set stronger limits. But, the beauty of my little girl’s imagination is worth the fifteen-to-twenty-minute cleanup later.

She imagines a castle. The thin blocks become a road. Empty plastic eggs contain invisible treasures. For at least a moment, messiness becomes understandable as each part takes on meaning. At least from a child’s point of view.

And I wish this explained disorderliness could be transferred into real life, where judgment is quick. Hate is resolved with more hate. Greed is seen as success. Me-as-the-center-of-the-universe remains unrecognized as a problem.

Mickey is happy with everything he gets. Friendships occur without any awareness that Bunny is several times larger than Mickey, and she is a different color as well as a different species. The toys on the shelf are sufficient; Ella asks for nothing more.

The play area has now been cleared and cleaned. My husband and I need to walk through without getting injured.

However, another scattered drama will probably appear another day. Bringing further adventure. My agenda will remain on hold.

Ella will give the next lesson, without knowing she is the teacher.

imagination toys on floor

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Life is about making an impact, not making an income. (Kevin Kruse)

My neighbor repeats the news twice before I hear it. And three times before it sinks in. The gentle man who does odd jobs for small pay, has bone cancer. He is in intensive care.

How can that be? Less than two months ago I invited him into my living room to pick up a huge package of chicken left-over from my birthday party. The weather had been chilly for an outdoor gathering, and the turnout had been sparse. The man had been grateful for the gift. He did not complain about illness.

Now I want to give him complete healing. It can’t be packaged. In fact, I realize I don’t even know this man’s last name. I realize that in the conversations I have had with him he revealed little about his life. A girlfriend or ex-wife. A child.

I suspect I missed some important details. Connections with someone important.

My mother-in-law, Mary, had a knack for drawing people to her from all areas of life: rich, poor, old, and young. She died more than a year ago. Yet, I continue to hear from the people who knew her. Stories about how she touched their lives.

I remember that I couldn’t tell her I wanted something: she would get it for me. My husband and I own a small house. Things continue to overwhelm its interior. Besides, what she gave me was far more important. She pointed out my spiritual gifts and talents; I had been taught to see only flaws.

So, when my sister-in-law brings out boxes of her clothes I am hesitant to take any of them. Moreover, in her final days my mother-in-law had lost a lot of weight. I expect most of the items to be too small.

Then, I see the Dale of Norway sweater my husband and I gave Mary. It had deep stains in it. My sister-in-law managed to remove them. An amazing feat. But, as Mary’s daughter, she doesn’t see the impossible with limitations. My sister-in-law, like her mother, chose social work as a career.

My mother-in-law managed to see beyond the stains in people to who they were. She wrapped warmth around them.

I reach for the sweater. “If it’s too small I will give it to my granddaughter.”

But the ornate metal clasps attach. The arm length is fine. No need to roll up the sleeves.

“I’m making an executive decision,” my sister-in-law says smiling. “It’s yours.”

Someday I pray to fit into Mary’s boldness. I may appear strong in print, but in a group I will most likely be the quiet woman in the corner, the one who leaves the room during an argument, the short redhead least likely to be heard in a loud crowd.

Then again, perhaps my calling may not be to follow my mother-in-law Mary’s assertive style. I can’t see the future.

For now, there is no reason why I can’t find out more about the condition of the neighbor with bone cancer from the person who told me about him.

Mary’s sweater fits. Now, I need to give it my style. Of giving, learning, and love.

Mary's sweater

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If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it. (Erma Bombeck)

When I get out of bed my back and knees don’t want to work together. I knock a glass of water onto the floor while reaching for cereal. I sigh and decide to own my day, the pleasant and the unpleasant. It’s going to be good. Just take one thing at a time, Ter.

Then when I return to the kitchen to grab my water bottle before exercise class I see that Jay is already filling it. The spill has dried; I’m ready for hours two, three, four and five of the day. As they arrive.

I’ve heard a lot of family rejection stories lately. They have been shared in confidence. And can’t be relayed in a public forum.  I listen and recognize the hurt, but feel uncomfortable when retaliation comes up during the conversation. War doesn’t help. I’m right; here’s a list proving why you are wrongI hope it scalds you. All the hearer recognizes is tone—original notion verified. Solutions rarely come quickly, or easily.

Then, there are friends who experience constant avalanche-style losses. I have several that I think about daily, sometimes more often, in the middle of the night.

Others suffer severe inconvenience. At a recent gathering of friends one woman told a story where so much went wrong, her journey became comedy. Her road trip, designed by human angels, included black ants, a flat tire, and one example of Murphy’s Law followed by another.

Therefore, when my husband found a blue crayon in the dryer—after it had ruined almost everything in a load of wash—I’d already had the lesson on perspective. Although my husband had not heard the same stories, he did not overreact either.  He has friends who suffer as well, and has come to understand perspective through their experience.

Unfortunately, one of the ruined items did not belong to me. I need to replace it.

One dryer has been scrubbed and one ego has been swallowed. “Uh, sorry.” And, yes, I am making good on the cloth that belongs to my church community. Actually, my granddaughter is sewing some new ones. And I will make sure she is rewarded.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I don’t go into long tirades on the righteousness of anything. In the next moment I could find another blue crayon in the final stage, the dry-and-set, of my so-called-perfect argument.

One more time from the top…check all pockets before hitting start. In any arena.

blue crayon stains

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