Posts Tagged ‘life on lfe’s terms’

Everybody’s talking about people breaking into houses but there are more people in the world who want to break out of houses. (Thornton Wilder, 1897-1975)

 Thornton, you were ahead of your time.

 I am reviewing my four-year-old-child skills. With the same lack of finesse. Making a mask from one of my husband’s old shirts. The mask I have pulls my hearing aids out, and the silk scarf I tried for the grocery store, slid off as if I’d smeared my face with bacon grease.

 Now, I model my newest creation. In cotton, St. Patrick’s Day green, designed for social distancing wear.

 Take an old T-shirt. Cut off the bottom, as wide a space as needed to tie around the face. Then cut out a square on each side, leaving enough room to tie above and below the ears.

 This version took a few minutes, with scissors that have cut a lot of paper. And numbed the cutting edges. Something like chewing celery without teeth.

Yes, I do have artistic ability. And no, I didn’t use any of it here. Genuine creation takes time. All I want now is a walk. Outside. Where the air moves a farther distance than a furnace fan can reach.

Slipshod work is good enough. A little fabric glue between the layers later will complete the project.

And—my husband and I—we are in the sun. Vitamin D, I’m ready to soak you in.

 White clouds and blue sky, may I never take you for granted again.



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They say the universe is expanding. That should help with the traffic. (Steven Wright)

I wonder how many drivers have made road trips—without wondering what the…heck is that guy doing? Traveling at NASCAR speed or moving twenty-miles-an-hour in a fifty zone.

When my younger son was about kindergarten age I turned onto a narrow road behind a woman, obviously elderly. Her shoulders sloped, and head leaned over the steering wheel. She drove the center yellow line as if she were failing a sobriety test. In slow motion.

When I reacted, my youngster responded, “Oh Mom, maybe she just has old-timer’s disease.

I don’t recall how I got around her, or when she turned onto another road. My son’s innocence, however, stays with me.

His simplicity didn’t nullify the lady as a roadway threat. It did help me get through the moment.

Years later, my middle granddaughter was in the car when a driver cut me off with half a foot to spare.

I gasped, but my granddaughter saved the moment again.

“Grandma, is that what’s called a jackass?”

“Bad driver,” I answered.

Unfortunately, not every accident is an almost. Signs above the highway note the statistics. They can’t relate experience. Pain. Loss. Fear.

Today I drive in the rain. Someone, male or female—it doesn’t matter—passes me on the left over the center line, misses an oncoming car by about a foot, and then repeats the favor with the next car.

Peace, I think. Not in pieces. Someday. Somehow.



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circles of seasons (2)_LI

You pile up enough tomorrows and you’ll be left with nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering. (Meredith Willson)

As I run toward the building my coat and the front of my pants soak with a waterfall-downpour.

“I’d wait if I were you,” a man calls from the curb.

However, my appointment is in five minutes. Enough time to sign in, not delay until Mother Nature’s mood settles.

“I swam in,” I tell staff at the Little Clinic. They took care of the preliminaries for me. I’ve been a regular customer for the past few days. One more to go.

“You are a beautiful person,” the nurse practitioner says as I slide down from my seat on the examination table, after receiving one more subcutaneous belly injection.

“So are you,” I answer.

This woman is a sunshine soul. A gift. She shares a positive attitude, an awareness that every individual has something to give. The tone for my day has been set.

I know. A needle in the abdomen? Not as uncomfortable as most folk would expect it to be—when the injector knows what she is doing. Moreover, I’ve been surrounded by so many examples of larger perspective, I can’t complain.

People I know face cancers with little hope of recovery. Friends deal with dementia, children into drugs, rejection from family. Even in these places I find amazing faith and hope in their stories. Prayer is good; presence and support are better.

Perhaps the moment can transcend the season.

The gentleman who suggested that I wait is no longer outside the building. I’m sure he meant to help. However, sometimes I need to head directly into a storm. With a friend or two and a good raincoat.


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fire (2)_LI

Keep yourself a stranger and pilgrim upon earth, to whom the affairs of this world are no concern. (Thomas Kempis)

Wednesday, November 22. Thanksgiving was hours, not days away, yet I imagined the duration as minutes instead. True, my focus seemed sincere: Organic preparation for family I love. Good thoughts about them as I measured flour or cut vegetables. And yet, a plentiful bounty wasn’t going to be the theme for this year. However, I didn’t know it. Yet.

In the afternoon I attended a meeting. How was our small church group going to present our Sunday celebration? The deep pink walls welcomed me. The third member of our team pulled a super-soft furry blanket over our legs. It broke the lingering outside chill.

I’ve always enjoyed Valerie’s house. Her husband’s painting on one wall attracted my attention. The honest white, brown, and tan winter scene seemed alive, the branches ready to sway.

We shared ideas. I’m always impressed by the intelligence of my comrades.

Hours later, after I’d tucked myself into an early bedtime, the phone rang. A member of our community notified our group about a fire, currently raging—at the house where I’d comfortably sat, before old wiring sparked a lightbulb change on the second floor, before it claimed their attic, before my perspective was about to take another turn.

“But, it can’t be on fire.” My thoughts ran wild. “I was just there a few hours ago.”

Sure, I sent positive vibes, also known as prayer. However, worry got in the way for far longer periods of time. What if? What now? Fear questions. Most of my energy remained bound inside my head and bed. Useless. I knew my friend who had warmed my legs earlier had come with her husband to help, immediately.

I was not prepared to see the calm on Valerie’s face on Sunday. She and her husband had lost almost everything. And yet—they had celebrated Thanksgiving. One precious moment at a time. His voice is naturally soft. Nevertheless, I heard every grateful word he said.

“As I watched the flames, I forced myself to think halleluiah.” Valerie’s words, as close as I can recall. No one had been harmed. The repair will be long and extensive.

These two wonderful people realize they are pilgrims on this earth. I am blessed to know them.


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A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind. (John Neal)

I meet every Tuesday morning with a spiritual group I joined when my older son was a toddler. The subject of hope keeps bouncing to the surface. I could use it.

Watch the news for more than five minutes, and the desire to remain on the couch indefinitely becomes tempting.

Deportation of innocent young people, hurricanes, earthquakes, the exploitation of personal tragedy, hate and greed take over the screen. 

As my friends and I talk about love that reaches deeper than the average Valentine card, I lift my socks-covered feet onto the coffee table. A deep purple bruise has taken over my right foot.

I knocked a few books off the shelf and gravity won. The foot swelling will heal. In comparison to the grief I see around me, this pain is a pinprick. The difficulties we explore are stab wounds.

However, my friend gives me an icepack. Love wrapped in a maroon towel. A symbol of hope. My friends share both encouragement and experience. Not lofty, disjointed everything-will-be-okay platitudes.

I share a short video. A Canadian politician is hassled by someone who confuses Sikhism for Islam. Clarification between the two groups is less important than the interruption centered in hate. Resolution comes through the leader’s call to peace. I hope the welcome greeting eventually touches the angry woman. Prejudice is heavy armor; it restricts movement and disables the heart. Hate armor takes time to build and time to remove.

The video can be found at this link: Sikh Politician Gets Verbally Attacked and Handles Gracefully.

In our small Tuesday group, we pause to check our responses. What preconceived notions do we hold? What views are opinions, taught, not experienced? And not true.

Kites fly through gentle wind; their fabric fails during turbulence. I choose where to fly a metaphorical kite, and where to call for reinforcements.

In the meantime, my foot loses some of its discomfort under the ice. I can decide to pass along kindness with the examples of my friends—or, I can add to the turbulence with discontent.

Peace. Upon all. Whether our political views coincide. Or not.

In the meantime, I will fly into Europe and meet other people. And see other ways of knowing life. Hopefully, I will come back with fresh perspective. And just a little more understanding.

photo-shopped public domain pic

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Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. (Dr. Seuss, author and illustrator)

 Caring isn’t necessarily the difficult part; fighting through the messy stuff in the real world is. Sure, I’ve met folk who seem to have as little compassion as an exploding grenade. Fortunately, not everyone fits into this category.

“I really have a busy schedule today,” I say. And then, the universe hears and grins with a peculiar plan for mischief. “Uh, huh,” it responds. “So do I, and I’m a lot bigger than you are.”

And that’s where priorities come in. Okay, the story I wanted to have critiqued for tomorrow night’s writers’ meeting won’t be as polished as I want it to be. My fingers won’t get the practice they want on guitar chords. These arthritis digits may need to settle for half the time—my eyes may not waste the few minutes I do have staring into space between songs.

I don’t waste time. Do I? Well, yes.

Another cup of coffee? Uh uh, Terry. Try water. More basic. It doesn’t contain caffeine or further complications.

Is family first? Will the world fall apart if I miss a self-imposed goal? Is my heart well-positioned, or do I have reservations? Okay, at least I’m working on it.


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Intuition is seeing with the soul. (Dean Koontz )

As Jay drives to my ophthalmologist I sit in the backseat next to my granddaughter, Ella. Headlights from oncoming cars mildly bother me even though it’s daytime. Morning. No glare from dark to light contrasts. And discomfort from dilating drops hasn’t happened yet.

I am certain I need new glasses even though I got a stronger prescription last year. But am I a candidate for cataract surgery? Don’t know. Yet. Besides, the hot, polluted Midwestern air teases my lungs, constricted by asthma.

I sit next to Ella. By choice. At six she is old enough to entertain herself. We play games together. I look at a bright Ella instead of an outside sky I’m not ready to face even with sunglasses.

“Name an animal,” she says.

Mickey Mouse is also playing. I hold the toy and act as proxy. “Mouse,” Mickey answers.

Ella nixes that response. Mickey is a mouse. He needs to think outside his own species. At least I gather that from her head shake. And I smile.



She adds, “Moose.”

At the office Ella sits so close to me I have difficulty filling out the paperwork. She glides her hand down my arm and sticks her head into mine. “You be okay.”

I’m grateful Grandpa is taking her to the park. My sweet granddaughter doesn’t need to sit and recall her own surgeries. Including open heart. Twice. Although she couldn’t recall the first. She hadn’t been six-months old yet.

Ella's last day at Children's Hospital

“Fine. I will be just fine.” I bring my fill-in-the-blanks sheet back with me. Down the hall. Not far. But, my memory slips back to a day before Ella learned to walk. To the first time I realized Ella could connect with my spirit in an unexplained way.

I was sitting on the floor as she crawled across the floor. My husband was watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He saw fiction. I saw a scene. A girl who could not escape. And I heard her scream. A waste of breath. The sound reached into my gut and ripped out my own memories… a moment that had been bad enough. The degradation afterward worse. I gasped.

My granddaughter could not have understood what I saw. Or remembered. Or felt. But, she climbed onto my knee and interrupted the scene, her eyes wide. She did not have language yet. Nevertheless, her face said, Look at me, not at the television.

At that moment I lifted Ella into my arms and returned to the present. The beautiful and blessed present. The horrid rerun of the past disappeared instantly with the power of her remarkable, aware soul. She caught me before my thoughts became entangled in the ugly. We moved to another room, another scene. Into the moment.

Ella has Down Syndrome, a tripled-twenty first chromosome. And, most likely, a tripled intuitive sense, a gift that is uniquely hers.

She is also right about today’s visit: I am okay. I need a new prescription for glasses. No surprise there. But, no cataract surgery yet. My vision may be surreal for eight more hours. And eyes a tad more sensitive. But, I don’t need perfect sight to recognize love.

“Name an animal,” she says.

And the game continues.

Ella back view at Mt. Airy Park April 2015


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The people who help me find my courage are not the ones who swoop in to save the day. They’re the ones who sit with me in the fear puddle and hold my hand while my knees shake. Here’s to the hand-holders. (Nanea Hoffman)

Our blue spruce tree needs a few limbs removed. The tree is being treated for spider mites and a variety of other ailments. Spikes that contain healing potions lead into the ground.

I watch the goldfinch, sparrow, and purple finch at the bird feeder. I have no idea how many have passed through blue spruce’s branches in its forty years in our yard. The number doesn’t matter. My husband and I don’t want to lose our bed-and-breakfast for birds. Even if the squirrels take advantage and eat sumo-wrestler-sized portions of feed. Cats watch and wait for slower flyers. Cooper hawks attack sparrows. Life is not perfect. Anywhere.

As I enter the house, my arms laden with groceries, I notice dead limbs. The word amputate comes to mind. A conversation I had at the store returns in my memory as if it is happening now:

“Terry, hi!”

I stop studying the varieties of paper products and turn around. I see a friend I haven’t seen in eight months. She has been through two rounds of chemo and one course of radiation for breast cancer.

“How are you? I have thought about you so many times.”

“I’m doing okay.” She pulls back a section of her scarf. “See. My hair is growing back in.” She reaches for my hand.

An employee comes by to check something in the aisle. I move to give her room, but don’t let go of my friend’s hand. The warmness of her being washes through me. And I don’t know who is offering whom courage.

She talks about the experience of chemo without putting glossy euphemisms on it. Yet, she is accepting. And hopeful. I have no idea how much time passes and don’t care.

I may have remembered everything on my list. Then again, I could have forgotten an essential item for tomorrow evening’s meal. It won’t matter. Something else will do. Larger matters surround me. Another friend is beginning a second fight against breast cancer. A neighbor lost her husband.

The bare branches will be gone soon. The tree will survive.  I lent my car to a family member this week. She needs it more than I do right now. I used my husband’s car for the weekly grocery trip. Suddenly the car loss appears trivial. The time I have been given to care for at-home chores seems essential. Basic. I’ve been neglecting some core needs. It is time to face them.

The tree reaches into the sky. My friend’s head shows tiny gray stubble. And today begins another day. No promises, but plenty of both sun and fear puddles. And I am grateful to join friends through both.

closeup blue spruce



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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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Isn’t it strange how life won’t flow, like a river, but moves in jumps, as if it were held back by locks that are opened now and then to let it jump forward in a kind of flood? (from “Clear Light of Day”  (Anita Desai)

I watch Ella as she lives fully in the moment. Mickey Mouse, Dora the Explorer, and a miniature My Little Pony take turns going down a plastic slide. Grandma joins the adventures. Reality adjusts to fit the scene. However, Grandma sees the dust as the sun streams in from the window, the mess that needs to be cleaned later, and an agenda that won’t fit into twenty-four hours. Ella recognizes play and infinite possibilities.

Breathe in for a count of five; breathe out for a count of ten, I tell myself. Yes, I am capable of imagination. “The Curse Under the Freckles,” coming out in early August, is a middle-grade fantasy novel. However, transferring that experience from a controlled page into everyday life is another matter. I need the example of a child, the vision of a little girl who can have open-heart surgery and then, less than a week later, return to her toys as if no time had lapsed at all.

Right now I am praying—a lot—for friends and family facing huge challenges. One has a cyst on her brain; the other is in the hospital with Crohn’s disease. And, of course I always think about my companion with stage-four breast cancer. Several years ago I thought I had gall bladder problems. I wasn’t even close. There was a blood clot in the lower portion of my lung, a pulmonary embolism. The predisposition is hereditary.

I took far longer to recover than my granddaughter did. I was focused on Desai’s metaphorical current and Ella lives its river, locks, jumps, and all. Oh, she fought harder than I did! She hollered, “No,” every step of the way, but she was thoroughly present.

I pick up an old Ronald-McDonald-in-a-plane toy and fly it upside down. “Hey, turn this thing around, will you, Mawmaw?” I say. “I’m going to fall out!”

Ella laughs. Maybe I’m learning.


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