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Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied. (Pearl Buck)

More than a half-century ago I remember walking home from a day of bullying in fourth grade. I silently prayed to become a saint, the only survival-answer possible to a child born in an ultra-Catholic environment.

Saints fit so ego-free into pages of old books. Little dialogue necessary. No smiles or frowns. They wore halos without alterations. I remembered a story about St. Lawrence, burned on something like a barbecue grill. “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”

Darn. I wondered what I was going to have to do. With my red-hair, sunburn had caused enough suffering.

Perfection never arrived. Yet, somehow on those book-laden, ego-smashed walks I found beauty in the clouds, the shapes of rocks. Words to describe nature appeared, stories, a rich imagination, a gift given instead of some lofty grownup concept.

The next day always appeared in full ugliness. My parents expected me to combat the world with the ten commandments; the advice remained in sterile print with no feedback. I was on my own.

One day a neighbor on a parallel street smiled at me. She knew who I was. “You have a long way to walk,” she told me. “You can cut through my yard.”

A small gift. The neighbor across the street from my house saw me crossing his yard and called out a hello. “Hello,” I called back, my grin causing his to grow larger.

Two syllables. They beat burning on a barbecue grill any day. I could do that. Maybe not at school. But, I could in my own neighborhood. A beginning…

 

 

 

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I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way. (Edgar Guest, poet)

My husband and I received two plants. As living, growing, loving gifts from our church family. Neither Jay nor I garden or know the difference between a weed and a rare flower, a mushroom and a toadstool. He takes care of watering indoor plants. Mother Nature tends to the outdoors.

These two plants belong outdoors. I assumed that after a few days, my husband had taken both small green pots from the screened-in back porch to their home outside. Only one made it. The other isn’t dead, but it is malnourished, waiting to be rescued. Drooping, brown-edged leaves fall from the side.

I watered the plant and placed it next to its healthier peer.

Peer? Yes. Planted at the same time. One starving, the other well-fed.

The individual who blasts views different than mine may look like the failing plant to me; he or she may think I am in the dying pot. Either way, negative judgment leads nowhere.

The man begging at the corner may be an alcoholic and drug addict; he may be a veteran with PTSD, or someone who lost everything from inadequate health insurance or despair. Appearances don’t tell the whole.

A storm last night watered both plants. No change in the flowerless pot yet. I want instant results. Real life rarely works that way. Next step—I must check with the person who gave us the greenery and get a hint or two. My plant knowledge may remain in the pre-kindergarten stage, but, any level of increased caring can help.

In the meantime, my seven-year-old grandson and I tinker with my failing printer. He is fascinated with the parts, with anything mechanical. The copy of his sight-words homework appears. The printer has come to life; he is ecstatic. I don’t know much about anything mechanical, like a printer. He doesn’t know much about printers or words.

We have no idea what we did right, but our work together has succeeded. Peers in a different sense. Okay, I did the work until my son came and finalized the original problem. (The machine was trying to send a non-existent fax.) My grandson brought the enthusiasm. The mix worked.

May people with differing points of view find the best in one another. Someday. Rich and poor, conservative and liberal, as equals. It may be the only way.

 

I shut my eyes in order to see. (Paul Gauguin)

Umbrellas and I don’t get along well. I either leave them in the car or under the table at a restaurant. Several years ago, I published a poem on a For a Better World site, AEQAI, maintained by Saad Ghosn. I remembered some of those narrative poetry lines while I was driving today, rain falling, my umbrella in the trunk, my thoughts recalling the many broken people I know. Peace upon all. Without judgment.

THE BROKEN UMBRELLA

I find an old, bent umbrella

in the back of a closet,

and remember a story

about my great aunt,

the one who lived

with my grandmother.

I heard she refused to go to school,

rain or shine, without her umbrella.

Grandma laughed when she told me,

one of those tired adult laughs

I didn’t understand.

She never knew why

her little sister feared rain.

And I wouldn’t dare ask.

 

My great aunt talked about men

as if they were born as sooty coal

covered with flesh.

Genetically messy, crude, loud.

Sports without a soul.

Since I was her only niece,

my aunt sought my ear.

I tolerated her out of pity.

I pictured her as a child

at the turn of the twentieth century.

paired with her umbrella,

two closed slender shapes

surrounded by bullies

who gave fuel to her opinions.

She learned bitterness somewhere,

wore it as a badge of a holy crusade.

 

In the fifties Grandma took in a boarder,

a quiet man who ate corn flakes

doused with warm water.

My aunt latched her door at night,

and moved a bookcase

in front of it.

 

Then one night after Grandma died

I stayed overnight with my aunt,

gave her some company.

I recall her bony frame in dull, plain pajamas,

all femininity pressed out,

as she told me about an uncle,

or was it a cousin?

You won’t believe what he did to me?

By then I was old enough to guess.

But, not old enough to know

the burden of that knowledge wasn’t mine.

I remained silent.

Her secret stayed bound

within flannel and hate.

She died in a nursing home.

Alone.

 

I imagine a new scene as I discard

the useless umbrella from my closet.

What would have happened if

I could have borrowed a few years

of experience from my future,

risked touching the pain in her eyes,

and asked, what happened?

 

My old umbrella’s hollow spiked bones stick out

through torn, split fabric.

I can’t fix it. Yet, strange,

I feel an odd sadness for all things

that no longer have a chance to recover.

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open. (John Barrymore)

My grandson, Dakota, and I explore our backyard with his new red plastic truck. It’s large enough for him to sit on it. I’m grateful he realizes I would crush it. A septuagenarian squatting that low and then maneuvering the toy from a bug’s height, would be a sight for the neighbors. I wouldn’t want them to anticipate a 911-call.

“You know you won’t live forever,” he says.

“Yes, I do. That’s why I celebrate time with you, give to others, and love as much as I can.”

He doesn’t answer and continues playing with the truck. We create ramps from National Geographic Magazines. He rolls construction paper and tapes it with heavy tape. My granddaughters’ baby doll bottles in the center maintain firmness.

We let the moments speak for themselves, the challenge to roll or unroll. To go over the ramp with the truck or bypass it. If one tactic doesn’t work, Dakota tries another. My little buddy doesn’t give up easily.

I consider how quickly the notion, not-good-enough, flashes into my mind. I know it was taught to me in childhood. What isn’t good enough? The statement is too generic to be true. Nevertheless, the temptation to just-forget-it rises far too often. For most human critters, both young and old.

My friend, Cathie, calls. She hasn’t seen me at the Y for a while. Either I have been entertaining grandkids or working on my book. She has something to give me.

“When I saw this, all the bright colors,” she says, “I thought of you and just had to get it.”

I plan to meet Cathie. On Friday morning. At ten AM.

She has made a pillow. Cathie is a seamstress. She uses her gift to celebrate other people.

“It’s pre-hugged,” she says, holding the pillow through the plastic bag against her chest.

Since we have both been in the pool, we are soaking wet. A chlorine hug doesn’t negate the love attached to her or her work.

Life isn’t perfect. It never will be. However, with grandchildren like Dakota and friends like Cathie, sweetness is easier to find.

 

As we grow spiritually, we discover that we are not as separate as we thought we were. We realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. (Richard Rohr)

Can time be weighed?

Does night and day,

progress, failure

illness, health,

compassion, and greed fit

into the final figure?

History. Is each page unbiased?

I wait, and watch as unnamed birds

fly and hide into deciduous branches

where leaves will fall, allow

trees to stand bare, and perhaps,

begin a new cycle.

Life changes

and yet remains unchanged.

 

 

 I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?” (Eve Merriam, poet and writer)

As Ella moves through a dusty playground area, I watch the children’s interactions. Some of the kids are wild, climbing over one another on the slide. They laugh even when their bodies’ positions are obviously uncomfortable.

Other youngsters appear less aggressive. I notice the essence of both peace and war in scaled-down forms.

One bright, talkative little girl tells me the story of a skunk that appeared one evening on one of the softball fields. She is animated yet assures me no one was sprayed. Her spirit speaks peace. Another little girl and her younger brother race against Ella for a bouncy whale and dolphin.

Ella stands too close to the two children. She begs for a turn. I can tell the siblings are determined to maintain a battle over the sea mammals because they gesture to one another as Ella walks away. I lead my granddaughter in another game.

“Ella, I’m swimming, but I’m not very good at it. I need a lifeguard. Will you be my lifeguard?”

I move my arms in an awkward mock swim motion.

“Sure,” she answers.

The distraction works—at least until the two kids are called by their dad to go home. A simple solution. At least for the moment.

Mine. Mine. Mine. A universal problem. Ella also wants to help her grandmother. Play is serious learning. She doesn’t grab the dolphin until at least ten minutes after her antagonists leave.

War. It has lived since ancient times. Now, news travels faster through social media, television, the Internet. Stories appear slanted, tainted, unverified. And violence continues in various forms as TV watchers eat dinner.

Suddenly, I have indigestion.

Shadows. They have multiple meanings. Reflected images born from the sun. Shady areas. Loyal followers. Hidden flaws. Metaphors.

Find the kindest kind of shadow…

Illusive at best. I can only seek the goal I see and love to the best of my ability. Love is war’s antonym.

Attending a protest in front of an ICE facility in my home town was a recent choice for me. You bet I was frightened. However, no one ever said love was going to be easy. Yes, immigration control is necessary. Cruelty, especially against children, is not. Fortunately, the event was as peaceful as it was intended.

Some shadows need more attention than others.

Peace to all.

 

 

 

One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. (Henry Miller)

Sunday begins with a new look at death. Since most of the members of our church group have passed the mystical, magical, well-lined age of 65, we know we are no longer middle-aged. Mary Grace Manera from Home Funeral Alliance, comes to talk to us about saying our final goodbyes at home. Not a new concept. Before funerals became an industry, final goodbyes were held at home. No concrete linings. No embalming. In another century Grandma could be buried in the backyard next to the marigolds.

Burial without a funeral director is possible in most states except Indiana. The Art of Natural Death Care, a vimeo, shows how this can legally be accomplished.

My husband and I already have faced our mortality. We sealed the green burial deal over pizza at Spring Grove Cemetery.

This afternoon I bury my plans to write for hours. Family is in town. My granddaughters want me to join the party. I realize the headache I had this morning has disappeared. And I am grateful for this moment. Gray. Rain in the air. Wash spinning in the dryer. Blood running through my veins. I am alive and appreciated by people I love.

Life is far from perfect. I fear for the current government, for the tolerance of greed, dishonesty, cruelty to people from other races and nations, especially the children. I can’t run from what is wrong; I fight against it. Yet, I continue to care for the people who see the world differently—far more difficult than facing mortality.

How do I see reality? What do I choose to focus upon and study with a magnifying class? What must I avoid? Reactions like hatred and retaliation become like gasoline thrown on a forest fire. Another form of war.

I pray for peace, one step at a time. One simple vision found inside a complicated world, followed by another step. Then another… May the ending close a worthwhile story.

 

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