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Posts Tagged ‘generosity’

When it’s gone, you’ll know what a gift love was. You’ll suffer like this. So go back and fight to keep it. (Ian McEwan)

Most people, whether they wear glasses or not, believe they see other people with 20-20 vision. I have neither X-ray vision nor psychic powers. But, I can erroneously imagine with little evidence that certain actions have clear causes. For example, a woman in the grocery store rages because the check-out lane isn’t moving fast enough. Obviously, she has an easily lit fuse. And, of course when her son demands candy and gets it, he is spoiled beyond rotten.

However, I don’t know anything about this woman and boy. I can’t document the fact that they are mother and son, not aunt and nephew, or babysitter and child-next-door. Missing facts lead to possibilities when it comes to fiction. I can give the woman a bizarre brain disorder. The boy doesn’t know how to cope and regrets his ornery behavior years later through an unexpected twist in the story line.

In the real world, both speculation and judgment are useless. Even if my original guess is accurate, what does it prove? I’ve limited future possibilities for the woman and child.

I’m reminded of the moment in water aerobics when I was talking with another class member about mundane and comical experiences. My husband joked loudly from the back of the pool. I responded with mock criticism, thinly veiled, since my smile must have reached from ear to ear. “Uh, yeah, he’s mine. We will be married 45 years in July.”

She responded, “My husband died 14 years ago.”

And I realized that I had been caught up in a moment of fun in the water, a few stories we had shared about grandchildren—not kicks through loss and grief.

We continued to talk. I deepened my sharing. We listened to one another. We spoke between jumps up, down, left, and right. We said good-bye on pleasant, perhaps blessed terms. I rode home next to my husband and celebrated human, imperfect, everyday love.

Today, I speak to a young girl, obviously successful. From my point of view. Then, the surprise appears. She has overcome difficulties, yet compares herself to others who have not needed to fight to win. The geniuses. The economically advantaged. I assure her of the beauty I see.

Chances are I have not eradicated all of her uncertainties. Any more than I have erased all of my own. But, I have learned not to assume my vision is 20-20. One more time.

Assumptions about people, groups of people, us versus them, lead to ugliness, disintegration, war. I’d like to eliminate hatred with the right word. The right gesture. It won’t happen. Even if debate and arguments were my forte. That doesn’t mean I can’t affect one person…and then another… and another. I may never know the outcome. I have enough trouble keeping my floors vacuumed. Taking over the job as a god is more than I could fathom. Ever.

Taking over the job as one useful, loving human being in a difficult world, is another matter. One. Only one. That needs to be enough.

rumi gratitude as antidote

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The real index of civilization is when people are kinder than they need to be. (Louis de Bernieres)

The wooden railing that leads to our basement is old and splintering. It left two of those shards in my left hand. I tried the smear-the-area-with-baking-soda-paste cure. One of the splinters disappeared with the treatment. The other said, No way, I’m not giving up that easily. And I am left with an aching hand.

I feel like a fool as I ask a neighbor if she can help me. She recently earned a nursing degree. The temperature outside has dropped into the Frigid Zone and the sun set at least an hour ago. Why couldn’t I have thought to ask her before dark?

But Madison is quick to assist me.

“I’ll come to your house. After all you are doing me the favor,” I say.

“No, no,” she replies. “It’s dark. I don’t want you to fall on the ice. I’ll be there as soon as I get my shoes on.”

She arrives. And so does her husband, Nathan. He brings an electric sander—to get to the source of the problem, the offending basement railing.

I wish I had dressed more appropriately, at least something better than an out-of-season green Christmas sweatshirt and gray long johns. But, Madison and Nathan don’t act as if they notice.

Unexpected gifts are often the best. Nathan smooths the railing and Madison removes the splinter with a steady hand. I barely feel a pinch.

Thanks, to both of you. I feel blessed for hours after you leave. Kindness has a way of lingering.

kindness is earth angel

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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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I am a tiny seashell
that has secretly drifted ashore
and carries the sound of the ocean
surging through its body. (
Edward Hirsch)

I may not live anywhere close to the ocean, but the ocean-sounds of my experiences remain in the short seashell-body of who I am. They hide in anyone old enough to have a past.

Yes, free will exists, but often knee-jerk reaction comes from expected hurt or rejection that has nothing to do with the moment; it involves long-ago scars formed in the evaporated sea of the past.

The love and acceptance of others creates fresh memories and the ability to see beauty—inside and outside of our shells. There are people who walk the earth who don’t know they are angels. They bring enough light for others to see beyond the expected.

Ella’s soft pink animal-print blanket lies over a chair for show—so that it can be photographed. The blanket was made to comfort her, to keep her warm during a time that promises to be difficult. Her open-heart surgery is scheduled for January 30. The large flannel square is a gift, offered by a woman who doesn’t know our little girl. Barb may or may not have seen a picture of our granddaughter. She gives because that is what she does. I told her I included photos of her creativity in my blogs. I don’t think she has ever looked at them. Praise is not her goal. A simple thank-you suffices.

I now want to be resilient like Ella and humble like Barb. I know Barb’s last name because I have finally been introduced to this gentle angel, but if anonymity serves her intentions, then publishing her first name is stretching it as far as I dare.

Once upon a time I recall being in a retreat group that was asked a rhetorical question. “What would the world be like if you hadn’t been in it?” The second question develops from the first: “What persons have touched your lives in a special way, yet never knew they blessed it?” That question was given more time.

Those people continue to arrive. And I suspect that if I am busy enough with gratitude there won’t be as much room for resentment and worry.

The sound of the ocean surges inside my metaphorical seashell. And sometimes it remembers storms; other times it recalls gentle waves and warm water. It explores each grain of sand underneath it, and knows it is not alone.

blanket made by Barb

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Wherever you are, be there. Lifestyle is not something we do; it is something we experience. And until we learn to be there, we will never master the art of living well. (Jim Rohn )

My husband’s ribs are healing slowly. Of course we can’t see the bones as they knit together. The slightest extended movement predicts a return to our normal life. Sometimes that improvement appears to move in geological time. I’m encouraged when Jay smiles at something as silly as an old F-Troup or Hogan’s Heroes rerun. That means he isn’t hurting at the moment.

Then, somehow, my added tasks feel less like work. Since my father once told me he wanted me to take a mechanical aptitude test to see how low a score I would get, it’s amazing that I am now leveling the wash machine and plunging the toilet. (Please note I prefer the former task to the latter.) Perhaps these accomplishments have come as side effects of my husband’s accident. Chances are I wouldn’t have attempted either job if I had someone with a strong arm and intact ribs close by.

However, I can’t give the impression that I’m bouncing from moment to moment with the serenity of a saint. And I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs so I’m not drifting in avoidance land either. Sometimes fatigue and the impossibility of bi-location attack me, and they can lead to a bad attitude the way black ice leads to the fall that initiated this situation.

Friends make a difference between finding balance and slipping into why-me or super-stress land. One friend, Marcia, helped me to soothe my soul back into my body through massage. Since I was concerned about leaving my husband for any extended period of time, she brought her magic table to my living room. I am blessed.

One of the gifts Marcia gave me was  the ability to focus enough to appreciate the now. I allowed myself to float into her care. I trusted her implicitly. After that relaxation I could consider trusting me, my own body and soul, my ability to fill my spiritual larder so that I had enough stored to give to someone else. While this notion should seem obvious, it isn’t the first thought of a girl brought up in the 1950s, where the female’s giving role was often skewed. In the popular “Christmas Story,” overplayed in December, Ralph’s mother is expected to be subservient to her husband. That position is not questioned. Sure she thinks the leg lamp is beyond tacky, but it needs to crash into smithereens before she can admit it.

I want to be present to my mate—as a choice, expressed in a continuous now. Who knows whether or not he will need to care for me some day, in a far more difficult situation. There is no sense to speculating about the future. This afternoon the sun has decided to make an appearance again, for a while. Every cell in my body has been enriched by Marcia’s loving skill, and the next post will probably be a gift from someone else—my first guest blog. Watch for it! This woman emanates positive thinking. In the meantime, peace to all!

enjoy little things words of wisdom

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We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life. (C. S. Lewis)

I spill grease all over the kitchen floor and sigh. Sure, I’d like to blame some external force, but my hurry caused the problem. I’m on 24-hour duty right now, and a shift change isn’t likely. My husband fell when he went outside to get last Sunday’s newspaper. The first few steps were wet, no sign of ice. The last one, however, threw him as if he were a discarded rag doll. However, rag dolls don’t have bones. Jay fractured four ribs. Four very painful ribs. The healing process will take months. In the meantime I am his right-hand-left-hand-everything-that-requires-movement woman.

One day this will be part of the past. It isn’t. Yet. It’s miserable. But, that doesn’t mean a lot of goodness hasn’t appeared along the way. Perhaps it’s the length of the relationship I have had with my husband, or perhaps I simply don’t sleep deeply anymore, but I tend to be at least half-awake when Jay needs me during the night. We are both learning as we go; it’s an awkward dance. Neither of us is ready for Dancing with the Stars, except perhaps in some comedic form. However, we aren’t important enough to be mocked in a routine, even on a local circuit.

Our first moment of gratitude came when Frank, our neighbor, shoveled the snow from our driveway with his snow blower. Then he cleared our sidewalk as well. When we had an appointment with the orthopedist on Monday, he led Jay to his car and drove. Our Toyota is much too low. That was not the end of Frank’s assistance. I know he will be there if we need him.

Missi, another neighbor, brought beef barley soup and has kept close watch on us. Several people from my church have offered to stay with my husband so that I can breathe air outside this small house. Other neighbors, Eric and Crystal, helped carry my groceries into the house and return our garbage and recycling bins after pick-up. Our sons are always present. Steve is working on a way to raise the level of our couch.

Yes, interruptions are real life—and they can hurt, take up valuable time, and make me angry at fate. I realize Jay could have hit his head on a concrete step. Awful could have taken endless forms. I’ve heard many stories that had no possibility for a happy ending. Each day is precious.

When the blessings appear, even simple ones like a card in the mail from a church member, I know diamonds are born from compressed coal. Friends let the sparkle show through a little bit early.

struggle part of the story

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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, aviator and author, 1902-1974) 

Another inch of snow falls on top of the ice we already have. I can walk across it in boots without making more than a crunchy dent in the surface. Winter has moved in to stay—at least it feels that way. I remember grass as a distant memory. My ’97 Toyota is iced to the curb with almost a car length of solidified snow behind it. I have a medical appointment this week. Mother Nature does not care whether I make it out of my petrified spot or not. At least, I am grateful to be retired. When I worked in a hospital pharmacy, business didn’t close. If this were a few years ago I would need to take a bus in sub-zero temperatures at six o’clock in the morning. Okay, imagining that landscape possibility is one heck of a lot worse.

Yesterday I tried to slam the snow shovel into the offending space behind my car. I could have been attempting to break a prison wall with a marshmallow stick. Nothing. When I went back inside the house to get a spade, the look on my husband’s face irritated me, mostly because I knew he was right. My back already had a few twinges in it, and I sometimes walk with the stiffness of an old metal toy soldier left in the rain too long. So far I have been managing a back problem with heat and exercise. Pushing it may not be a good idea.

So, Terry, consider what you have been able to do: take care of your husband as he recovers from minor surgery; cook some wonderful meals for him; thoroughly clean-out the refrigerator; re-vamp three stories published in 1998 in a local magazine known as “Dream Weaver,” and then have them accepted by http://www.pikerpress.com/. The pending dates are listed on the web page. At least one of those stories you were able to illustrate. So far this has been a good year for poetry and short-story publishing. You remain free of the burden of wealth, but being internationally unknown has its benefits.

How the whole looks in the future is beyond my reckoning. I look at the bird feeder in our blue spruce tree and watch as a red-bellied woodpecker intimidates his fellow feeders. They fly away from his pointed beak. But they come back. Again and again. For as long as the birdseed remains available.

Okay, sun, I know you are out there! Patience? Sure, I’ve heard of the virtue. That doesn’t mean I’m crazy enough to ask for it.

Then, thirty minutes before my younger son, Steve, is due to arrive at our house I rush outside to shovel enough space for him to get his car into our driveway. I can handle the softer additional inch in that time without breaking my back. My eyes widen when I reach the street. Some unseen elf has removed the igloo material from behind my car. I figure out who he could be within seconds and call our neighbor, Brian, to ask if he performed this minor miracle. With what I hear as a heaven-accent soft voice he says that he did. My thanks are honest; I feel warmed by his kindness.

Steve widens the driveway path and finds the road under my car. A peninsula-shaped remnant of the ice remains in the street, but every car battles that one.

My thanksgiving should be complete. I’ve just received a get-out-of-jail-free card. However, a neighbor arrives. Our older son, Greg, and a passing stranger helped her out of her driveway last week with the help of our snow shovel, spade, and a rug that should have been discarded years ago.  She gives us a loaf of homemade banana bread.

I guess I owe Greg a loaf of banana bread…Then maybe I should provide another kindness to the next person I see, to keep the blessings flowing.

(pic not taken from our area; the snow just feels this high)

high snow

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I want to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. (David Nicholls) 

On a January Friday the main roads are clear and there are a few hours before the next arctic blast, so Jay and I run errands. We stop for lunch at a fast-food restaurant, not our first choice, but it works with the time we have.

A man with long white hair, Santa-style beard, and red T-shirt stands looking at the picture menu. We step back to let him enter the line ahead of us.

“No, you go first. I haven’t decided yet.” We talk about the weather as Jay and I wait to order.

“That will be $10.51,” the woman at the register says, sounding terminally bored.

The gentleman with the flowing beard tosses his credit card onto the counter. I turn around, stunned. “Thank you, but…”

“You don’t have to thank me. Thank, Jesus.”

I hold my breath, fearing a lecture on Christianity. It doesn’t happen, and I am grateful. My church has strong Christian roots, but I believe that a person’s spirituality can develop from multiple sources. The proof comes in the individual’s life, in an ability to love. This man makes his statement. Once. Then chooses to live it. He speaks of other matters: retiring in the distant future, current outside temperature, different kinds of chicken sandwiches. He waves to one of the employees working in the back.

His blue eyes sparkle. He definitely gives the impression of an individual who lives outside-of-the-box. But that is the way with geniuses, artists, and saints. “Just pass it on,” he says.

This may be January, almost a month after Christmas. However, I wonder if Santa, or Saint Pass-On-Some-Kindness hasn’t been hanging out at unlikely places lately, waiting to give folks a smile just when they need it.

The sun brightens—for a while, a blinding blue on top of the last coating of white. It won’t last long. No weather pattern in this part of the world ever does. It just feels that way. The result of generosity? Well, it can be a seed that grows into almost anything that is beautiful.

how you treat others

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