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The Taste of Silence

Luckettsbird2

 

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be this morning-- whatever it was I said
I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field-- I was hurrying
through my own soul, opening its dark doors-- I was leaning out;
I was listening.
- Mary Oliver, Mockingbirds

I love the quiet hush of early mornings; it's not completely silenced, but it seems as if all the sounds are muted, soft, and just barely there. There and then gone, teasing, enticing me to listen carefully. 

Stillness and silence seem intertwined, nearly inseparable. My soul needs both, and treasures the mornings that begin slowly and invite introspection. I miss it all when for whatever reason I tell myself that there's not enough time, that things need to be done.

Yesterday was one of those mornings, a bit rushed, a bit hectic, with things that "had to be done" before I took off to watch over a sick little one.

One of those "the world will end if you don't do this" things was taking out the recycling and trash. Bags in hand, I stopped short, staring a pretty amazing, awfully large black bird ambling through our back yard. His feathers glistened all sorts of purples and blues, the sunshine pulling them out of the black. 

I stopped briefly, bags still in hand, to watch and enjoy him. Not a crow...I've seen some big crows, and he outdid them. A raven? 

And, then I broke the silence, calling out a "Good Morning," and away he flew. Immediately, without hesitation, he flapped those large wings and took off, never looking back. The magic was gone in a heartbeat.

This morning, as I read and began to write my morning pages, he popped back into my mind. 

"Time changes, the world goes on changing, but the experience of silence remains the same...the taste of silence remains the same." (Osha Deck)

The taste of silence...I love these words, and as I wrote my pages this morning, thinking about yesterday's bird, another memory peeked through...Sister Delores, my oldest son's second grade teacher.

Sister Delores loved life and loved teaching, making learning come alive. She was on the uppermost floor of the oldest part of the school, the floor that at one time had housed the students who lived at school. Huge windows looked over a tiny town, and through one window, you saw the twisted, gnarled branches of a old tree. 

Beneath the window, she place a table with a log book, several bird books, and a few pairs of binoculars. Students could visit the station at various times, and they worked to identify the birds, logging them in with date, time, and other observations. By the end of the year, my son could identify any local species on sight, telling you whether the bird was male or female. No formal teaching, just putting the pieces into place for her kids to learn.

Her classroom was full of magic, complete with secret clubs you had to earn your way into, one of them having to do with writing. She set her expectations high, and the students worked happily to meet them.

I remember laughing aloud one day...on the door frame outside her classroom, a long strip of adding machine tape traveled the length of the frame. Sectioned off by day, various dead bees and flies were taped to the tape, with each day's tally at the bottom. Wide open windows...no AC!...led to many classroom visitors, and Sister worked with what she had.

And from there, my mother came to mind, an image so clear of her hanging out the laundry on an old clothesline, pegged with old wooden dowel clothespins. Each time she hung out the clothes, or came to unpin them to bring them in, a cardinal would alight in a nearby cherry tree. The cardinal whistled; mom whistled back, and on the conversation went the entire time she was outside. 

He only talked to Mom; when the rest of us were on clothes duty, he'd sometimes land softly on a branch, observing closely, but never made a sound. It was mom or nothing!

All of this poured through my mind as I wrote this morning...a stream of writing, loosely bound by feathered visitors. 

The sound...and the taste...of silence let the words flow.


No Soup...er, Paycheck...for You!

Nonessential

You skipped the suit coat, dress shirt, and pants this morning, instead grabbing a t-shirt and pair of jeans. No briefcase needed, just a few books. The morning would be long, and all you'll be allowed to do is sit...no answering the phones, no touching the computer. Just sit and wait for the powers that be to show up and hand you a several page document that lists a few "Thou Shalls," but many, many more "Thou Shall Nots."  Thou shall not use any government issued technology. Thou shall not answer your government phone. Thou shall not attempt to sue the government. After signing off that you've received your furlough packed, you'll be allowed to leave and head home for an indefinite period. In the meantime, the  books would help pass the time. The last go round, you waited 4 hours for the packet bearing folks to show up.

It's a miserable thing to be deemed "Non-Essential." The biggest minus, of course, is the lack of a paycheck. But, it does something to the psyche. After 40 plus years of doing your job, and doing it extremely well, the message is sent that you don't matter much. All those years of putting in your 8 or more hour days, then coming home, still on call, answering phones in the wee hours of the night and then heading downstairs to telework so that one problem or another gets solved, well, none of it matters much. And people from all over, weigh in with the certainty that you're nothing but a free loader anyway. 

You don't know when your next pay check will come. Simple things get put on hold; you don't want to use the gas, so you mostly stay put. The grandkids sometimes get told "no" when something as simple as a request for McDonalds is made. You need to be careful, because if this thing goes on for more than a week or so, the next step is to contact utility companies, creditors, etc. and ask for mercy. It's one huge dose of humble pie.

My husband is one of the thousands and thousands of faces of this budget mess. While senators, representatives, and more argue their lines in the sand, we just wait and pray. 

It sucks to read folks from all over the country commenting "Good. I hope it stays shut down." Or, read the VIP in charge of shutting the government down, pronounce it, "Kind of a cool feeling." The president's son states that this shutdown is "good for us." 

I don't know what the answers are. I do know that I  blame both sides, each one so focused on getting what they want, that you just don't much matter. Oh, they all sometimes preach a good game, but they get paid. They're getting paid for not doing their job. 

I also know that some of what each side is arguing for is important. Terribly important. But, you also want them to just pass the budget, or at least a continuance, and then address these matters. You just want them to stop using all the issues and you as bargaining chips.

The news is another ball of wax. On one hand, it's your life line to the possibility that you might get to go back to work. On the other hand, it's a mess of conflicting information and a blame game. Honest to God, my middle schoolers behaved better than these "esteemed gentlemen and ladies." And, if they didn't we firmly addressed the matter. I am so tired of the name calling and blame game. Last night, I read one article that held out hope that some progress was being made, that "they" were working hard to the government open. The next article plainly stated that no hope was to be had. Both news agencies are respected sources, but they told such different stories.

I know I have it better than so many folks; I have food to eat, a roof over my head, and much more. I keep trying to put it all into perspective. Most of the time, I can do it. At other times, the anger and worry wash over me like a tidal wave. 

We'll get some yard work done, a few house projects will get completed. There are closets to be cleaned and stuff to be decluttered. We won't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves.

But, still, it sucks to be "Non Essential." It just sucks.

 


Old Men Talking

Brunswick, MD 021

Puff, puff.

Chug, chug.

I think I can. I think I....

Well, maybe if I just stopped to admire this porch, a wonderful wrap around porch, the kind you sit on and watch the world go by, well, maybe I could. Brunswick, MD's hills provided quite the workout.

Just then, a quavery voice rang out. "Hello there, it's a beautiful morning."

I grinned at the elderly man rocking away this February day.

"Hello," I answered. "Hello. I'm just admiring this wonderful porch: I love it. " I didn't go into the specifics of needing to catch my breath.

"Yes, I've been here 8 months now. When I was looking for a place to stay, I saw this porch. And, I thought, this will work. Yes, this will work." He continued on, sharing a bit of his story, and I listened contentedly, whispering a pray of thanks for this elderly man wanting to talk.

At the end of it all, he wished Phil and I  a good day, and we responded likewise. I love small towns for this reason; everyone enjoys a good visit.

Making our way up the rest of that dratted hill, and loving the fact that the return trip would be downhill, Phil and I reached Beans in the Belfry. We'd found quite by accident one winter's day, hoping to visit a nearby rail museum.  Despite its website stating it would be open, we found the building shuttered and dark. In search of things to do, we'd found this coffee shop. Intrigued by the name, and the obvious fact that at one point in history, it had lived its life as a church, we wandered into an eclectic mix of various tables, sofas, chairs, and the most wonderful aroma imaginable. Sounds of a blue grass band mingled with conversation and the clanking of dishes.

And, here we were again, hoping for more of the same.

Phil grabbed a menu, and just as we began to figure out what we'd eat, another elderly voice inquired, "What sort of photos do you take?"

I looked up into steel blue eyes and a very wrinkled face. Leaning against a walker, he went onto tell me he photographed all sorts of things, but mostly trains. He collected them, you see, and he'd been a worker on a train once.

I happen to love old people, and full disclaimer, I happen to be well on my way to being one. Despite my 60 plus years, this gentleman obviously had at least 20 on me.

Phil and I put down our menus, both being well trained in manners, respect, and both of us, lovers of stories. We didn't have a firm agenda, and well, how long could a man, dependent on a walker, stand and talk?

It turns out to be a very long time.

I saw my dad in him - the somewhat rumpled mish mash of clothes, funny tufts of hair in odd places, and the crazy meandering threads of conversation.

Where were we from? Did we come here often? He came every Sunday; he'd been coming for years now, ever since the place opened.

Gesturing toward a chair, he explained he'd written most of his novel there.

What trains had we ridden? He'd been on one that traveled across most of Alaska, a special train just for his group. It reminded him of when he worked on a train, supervising the dining car. He had to get there early, to begin breakfast and have it ready. The bosses got to know him, let him ride in the engine, but he couldn't stay too long. So much of his help was teenagers, you see, and they required close supervision.

His voice often got lost in the din of cutlery, the sounds of nearby conversation, and the live music. My mind kept flitting back to my dad and his love of stories, to all the times he'd converse with anyone and everyone. He wanted to make someone laugh, often reminding us that if you made someone laugh,  you'd done good work.

Most of all, I knew this man needed to be heard; Phil and I took delight in obliging.

A worker walked by, asking where he would like his order. He pointed to the chair he mentioned earlier, explaining that the person seated nearby would be sure to watch it for him.

I think the conversation continued for a half hour before he left us, stopping promptly at the next table with another opening conversational gambit.

Phil and I just grinned at each other; I pointed out that he would be that same type of old man, talking to everyone.

His response? "I already am!"

As we ate, I'd turn around now and then, to check on our new friend, always finding him engrossed in conversation with someone. As we left, Phil reached out to shake the old man's hand and thank him for his conversation with us.

With a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and reminded us that he'd be here every Sunday and would love to talk with us again.

Much to Phil's delight, we found the train museum open, and lo and behold, volunteers wandered about in the form of little old men, anxious to share the place. They firmly corralled us, along with a few others, and new conversations began.

I have to admit, after a few minutes, I excused myself.

I can talk cameras and photography. I can also talk train rides.

Scale and layouts baffle me, and headaches follow as I try to make sense of it all.

So, I left Phil happily engrossed in it all, followed around by said volunteers, chattering away.

Instead, I wandered the second floor, admiring bits and snippets of the past and indulging myself in playing dress up in the kids' corner.

And, I thought a good bit about the elderly and their love of stories, their wanting to be seen, heard, and valued. It costs so little to sit and listen, a bit of time mostly.

I thought about all the wonderful folks who'd given my father that time, and I said a quick prayer for all those who had no one to listen to them.

Old Men Talking.

Probably Old Women as well, but for some reason, I seem to come across the men more often. I've heard wonderful tales told of days growing up as a slave, and how proud one man was to be a house slave after growing up picking cotton in the fields. It brought history home and made it real.

Old Men Talking.

Stop to listen; they tell the best stories.

IF you and I are lucky enough, we'll be the ones telling the stories someday.

And, hopefully, someone will stop to listen.

 

 


Muddled Thoughts

October and November 2016 105

I've been sitting with the election results for nearly a week now. Each time that I think I may have come to grips with it...not liking it...just sort of internalizing it, something else happens. And, before I know it, my monkey mind is spinning like an unbalanced load of laundry. It's gone completely amok, trying to process it all.

Full disclosure here: Trump was not my candidate of choice. Not because he's Republican, but simply because he made my stomach clench with what I perceived his character to be. I'm not okay with public bullying, poking fun at others, etc. He simply goes against so many of my own personal beliefs, and this is where I'll ask you to not post any sort of hateful comments. I just don't go there, okay? And, my hope is not that he fails big time, so that I can go...Aha! See?

Because if he fails, we all go down big time.

Don't get me wrong; I'm scared. I'm just not going to let that fear control my life. I want to somehow harness this fear, make it fuel me to work for change.

I've written and re-written this post so many times in my mind. I still don't have the right words, but here is what I do know.

I loathe and detest the hate filled comments I've seen, before, during, and after the election. There are ways to state your case, what ever that case might be. It simply does not have to be hateful or demeaning. I've seen both parties do it; both are still doing it.

Public shaming is awful; people have a right to be disheartened, to grieve an outcome. And, I think that they're grieving far more than Secretary Clinton not being the president elect. I'm one of those people; it's just that my grief happens to be more private. People are grieving what seems to be a complete rejection of values important to them, a way of life.

But, I'm seeing the term crybabies being thrown around, and people being told to "grow up" already. Photos, of course, are nearly always attached.

The grief may seem excessive to you or to me; it doesn't matter. Nothing gives us the right to shame the ones grieving.

Much of this type of shaming comes backed up with comments on a generation that has been always given their trophy, always told they're wonderful, that have been excessively coddled. I happen to agree with some of this; I've seen it far too often in a classroom setting. The thought has crossed my mind that we're blaming the wrong folks here; these people didn't raise themselves, and sometimes, they were never given the tools to "get over it." And, I bet that the very folks posting this sort of crud would be horrified if someone publicly shamed them or theirs because the shamer felt that someone had been too easy on them, or raised them poorly.

Public shaming is just not the answer; it sure as hell is not going to cure anything.

I also believe in the right to protest peacefully. It's built into our government; our voices always need to be heard.

What I don't agree with is violent protests, the burning of the flag, or defacing property. Destruction solves nothing here. Nothing.

And, let's stop the public gloating, okay?

So, where does this all leave me? Like I said above, still confused, still grieving, and worried about my the direction my country seems to be moving.

I'm worried about minority groups, about children, about the lack of respect given to women. I'm more than worried about this white supremacy bit. It makes my skin crawl.

For me, it comes down to this. I need to get more involved with what I care about - the hungry, the poor, human rights in general. I need to get active in a big way, and to do it more than at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I need to do more than what I'm doing now.

I need to do more than "talk the talk." Talking is easy; sometimes, doing is not.

I need to stand up for what I believe in, and I need, at least for now, to limit my contact with Facebook rantings. It's not sticking my head in the sand; I'll be reading and researching, but choosing the sources of my information carefully. Not that I'll just stick to what I happen to agree with...now, that would be sticking my head in the sand! But, I need to not let this hate soak into my pores and fill my days.

Do I need to address this hate? Yes, there's not doubt that I do, but I don't think slinging words back and forth on Facebook will do the trick.

I'm really tied up with what to do with this one...I do need to be able to say "I don't agree." But, it needs to be more of a conversation, not what could well be perceived as a public attack on a person. So, how to do this, I'm just not sure yet, but I need to begin with my own corner of this world.

Most of all, I need to take that good hard look at me, at how I'm living my life, at the prejudices I didn't think I had in any way or fashion. I need to decide the person I'm going to be in what feels like a really bad situation. 

I refuse to say that nothing good has come out of this seeming mess, because I believe that the first step in moving past the ugliness in acknowledging it still does exist, whatever form it takes. Logically, I know this; I've always known it, but I buried it.

I need to step up my game, that's for sure.

And, I refuse to let go of hope.

I'm still sorting this all out in my mind, but I just refuse to let go of hope.

 

 

 

 


Morning Light

Basket5 copy

The light dances across my bedroom floor later and later each day, slanting in at a different angle, and teasing me to take notice. Before I know it, its time with me each day dwindles to almost nothing.

It stopped me in my tracks this morning, lighting up this mundane laundry basket. Shadows and light tangoed back and forth in a seductive performance.

As I type, I'm thinking that if I had one of those oh so stylish blogs, my dirty laundry would repose in a hand woven wicker basket, maybe even one made of sweet grass. I'd artfully strew things alongside,  some freshly picked flowers from my non existent gardens. My beautifully arranged dirt laundry  might even be basking on some delightfully rumpled linen.

If I had any inclination to set up this delightful scene, the light would be long gone. I'd have to have arranged everything the night before and hope to heavens that Phil would not trip over it in the middle of the night.

Truth be told, I'd need to go buy that awesome basket and delightfully rumpled laundry.

So, no, what you see is a rather ordinary, cheap white laundry basket, most likely from Target or Walmart. It serves its purpose admirably, has done so for quite some time now, and hopefully will do so for quite some more time.

Cheap and ordinary though it might be, I've photographed it frequently. The light through the opens creates wonderful patterns, and I enjoy playing with my simple Iphone shots, hoping I managed to capture a bit of ordinary magic.

Capturing light keeps me engrossed for hours.

Some time ago, I would have told you that light is light is light. Not so.

Soft morning light.

The harsh midday light.

Dusky muted light.

Light dancing through tree leaves.

Light that leaves me squinting.

The light of the golden hours.

October light.

October light makes me smile, maybe more so than any other light. It brings with it soft golden magic, muted yet strong. I struggle to define what makes October light special, but any photographer knows it and knows its magic.

For now, I'll enjoy these last days of summer light, watching it shift each and every day.

I'll watch it, catalog it, photograph it.

I'll store it in my head, calling it back when I need it the most during winter's long days.

Light is magic, you know.

 

 


We're Not Talking Rice Krispies Here

Snap

Snap.

Crackle.

Pop.

If you're at all like me, you're thinking Rice Krispies, but nope, you're wrong.

It's more like "Bogdan's Home for Malfunctioning Body Joints."

His knee; my shoulder, and they're wrecking havoc here.

Let's begin with his knee, which is pretty much sans cartilage, that nice stuff that cushions things a bit. Bone rubbing on bone creates pain, lots of pain. You hobble, lurch, and often walk like you've been nipping at a flask in your hip pocket.

Your blind, deaf cocker spaniel beats you up the steps and then bestows a huge doggy grin on you. (Miss Buffy has been gone awhile now, but she did love to race her daddy during these times!)

Our family doc took one look at the knee, and then stated that while he was not an ortho guy, he felt pretty certain that another knee replacement loomed. Of course, it does. We've got beach plans next month, a NY trip in October, and I have an art retreat in October as well.

At any rate, Phil began the referral process, and the powers that be promptly kicked back the referral. For this go round, it's to be Walter Reed Hospital, the same hospital where Phil had the president's physician "practice" on him, trying to do some blood work, etc. My husband's veins did not make the task easy.

So, now we wait for the referral to get into Walter Reed's system, and then call to make an appointment. Something tells me that before the process nears completion, October will have come and gone.

Phil's well versed in this game of doctors and hospitals, knowing the drill inside and out. Me? Not so much.

I've been blessed to have very few encounters with the medical profession. A healthy fear of needles plays a part; so do some apparently very healthy body parts. Well, at least until now.

My shoulder's been sore, beginning with that feeling of having slept the wrong way. Mildly uncomfortable, just enough to make you take notice, but now progressing to some pretty solid "Oh, hell, that hurts," to worse.

I want to sleep on my right side; I can't.

I go to grab the laundry from the dryer and say words that my twits don't need to be hearing.

Washing my hair becomes scaling Mount Everest.

And, the first time my shoulder crackled and popped, I sat straight up in sheer disbelief.

A few days ago, we went to kiss good night - Phil on one side of our king sized bed, me on the other. We both began inching across the great abyss, each of us nursing our respectively sore body parts.

We inched.

We inched some more.

Then, we made the mistake of looking at each other's faces and just lost it.

Two grown adults laughing like loons, wanting to just roll with the laughter, but cursing when we hit a sore part.

Finally, managing a straight face, Phil told me that it didn't matter what I thought, he would be making me an appointment with our doctor.

Two days later, I found myself buried in a sheaf of medical forms. Since I had not been there in a "good while," they needed me to update my forms.

Date of last menstrual period? I wrote, "a hell of a long time ago."

Date of last tetanus shot earned a question mark.

With Phil watching and trying not to laugh, I slogged through the forms, adding other question marks here and there.

Handing them back to the receptionist, she briefly checked them, looked at me, raised her eyebrows slightly, and professionally uttered her "thank you."

I slunk back to my chair, just a bit mortified. Notice, I say "a bit." That fear of needles will most likely produce the same effect once I'm through this mess.

The same good doc that referred Phil to an ortho figured I had a turn rotator cuff and sent me packing downstairs for x-rays and more forms. Answering pretty much the same questions, it seemed to me that with the two offices connected, along with a lab, computerizing it might be the way to go. For now, it was papers on a clip board and a ball point pen.

I entered more question marks, and Phil just sat back, grinning, and enjoying that the shoe was on the other foot, most especially that the darn shoe was on my foot.

I turned in my forms, earned more raised eyebrows, and was told to wait.

Back to my seat, I slunk, only to inform Phil that his idea of a hot date stunk.

At last the guardian of the door called my name and ushered me back to the inner sanctum of x-rays, telling me to strip above the waist and put on this gown.

Uhm, this procedure took a while, more than she thought.

Checking to see if I was ready, because really, what could I be doing in that changing room...I slumped my poor aching shoulder in defeat and asked for help. When you arm refuses to bend, getting undressed and putting on a medical gown becomes reality tv.

God bless her, she smiled at me, reassured me, and I slunk down another hallway to let the games begin.

Because, you see, she wanted me to bend the darn arm...this way, now this way, and oh, let's take two more shots since you're having such difficulty.

Eventually, with a few tears and some muttered oaths of damnation, we did what we needed to do.

Once again, I asked for help with the gown, received it, and then struggled back into my clothes.

15 minutes of waiting got me a disc, and we left for home, another hot date on the books.

Yesterday, my doctor called to say there was no tear, and that I probably had rotator cuff tendinitis, and please, be sure to see the ortho guy as soon as possible.

And, now we wait.

Will my referral be accepted by the great and might OZ?

Or will it be kicked back, and is Walter Reed in my future as well?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, bring on the ice packs and Tylenol.

 

 

 


Lock Down

Hydg

"Active shooter at the hospital. We are on lock down. Of course, I have to go to the bathroom."

I laughed out loud...yep, of course, the bathroom. His "Casual stroll bys" to the nearest bathroom make for a great running gag here abouts.

But, then I focused on the first part of the message.

Active shooter?

There's an active shooter and this idiot's last words to me are, "Of course, I have to go the the bathroom?"

You often read about these sorts of messages, messages sent during a crisis situation that profess undying love. Me? I get told that he has to go to the bathroom!

Plainly, I was not on all cylinders here, if I were having a snit fit about his message. I knew he wasn't at the hospital on base, but active shooters are known to travel. And, let's face it, if it the shooter was military, chances are he/she could have some great access to some powerful weapons.

Yesterday, we celebrated our wedding anniversary - 42 years and counting. On our way to a wonderful old used bookstore (We tend to really do things up when we celebrate.), we'd been chatting about my nephew, due to head out to Turkey soon to work with refugee children. The recent terrorist attack there had stirred things up a bit on our end, and my sister, God bless her, put on a brave face, admitted to being scared to death, but whole heartily supported her son and his decision to go. Phil and I chatted briefly about the world in general, and its many opportunities for danger. Without much fanfare, we reaffirmed out choice to continue to live our lives the best we can, and more importantly, not to live them around fear. Little did I know that fear would rear its ugly head about 12 hours later.

My cell phone rang, my daughter on the other end.

"Dad's teleworking today, right?"

"Nope, honey, he's right in the middle of that lock down mess. He's complaining about not being able to go the bathroom."

We both laughed, promised each other to keep in touch, and went about our business, phones kept nearby.

You see, we'd done this drill before. Several times.

Just missing a bomb at the IG Farben building when stationed overseas.

Being in the Pentagon on 9-11, yards from where the plane rolled to a halt. Waiting hours to hear if he were alive, all the time rocking my students as they sobbed and waited for a parent to come get them. Watching him go back into a still burning Pentagon the next day, to show the rest of the world that we would not be defeated. (If you watched the coverage that day, there was a smiling man cheerfully waving to the reporters as he stood in line to enter that burning building. Yep, the very same idiot...and I say that in a loving way...whose last words could well have been about the bathroom. He's mine, all mine, and has been for 42 years.)

About a year later, we dealt with the DC Snipers.

Throughout the years, this sense of what could go wrong, tends to reside in the back corners of our minds. If we chose to focus on it for any great length of time, we'd all be nuts. It comes with living in the DC area, and it comes with his job.

I can still picture the day that I figured out that his then job (computer on the back up plane for Air Force 1) mandated that in effect of nuclear war, he'd leave on that plane. It absolutely horrified me that he could get on that plane knowing full well he'd be leaving us to die. His only response as I went ballistic was that it was his job. Finally after about 24 hours of disbelief, I shoveled that bit to the back of my mind as well, because, honestly, should that scenario play out, he'd be the one behind. We, most likely, wouldn't know a thing.

So, yeah, we've been there and done that in various forms, and we'd made a very deliberate decision not to focus on it all. Except, that sometimes, like today, it spills over into reality.

I briefly checked the news outlets; they really knew nothing but were doing a fine job of speculating, and I didn't need that. So, I prepped dinner, did some laundry, edited a few photos. I knew to keep busy; sitting, sobbing, and worrying wouldn't help. I put out a few calls for prayers, let a few folks know that most likely, Phil was not anywhere near the action, and just kept moving.

A bit later my daughter texted that Joint Base Andrews had been given the all clear. I briefly checked the news, still tons of speculation, but the upshot seems to be that a practice drill for active shooter on base was slated for today. Apparently, someone who missed the memo about this being a practice, looked out a window, say some men with some awfully big weapons, and called for help. The news reporters kept harping on finding out why not everyone on base knew about the practice drill. Well, I can answer that...people don't read all their email and memos. That's pretty much a topic of daily conversation here. Phil does an awful lot of briefings for folks that don't read their daily reports. The reporters dramatically voiced that the folks at Andrews had been on lock down most of the morning. Well, nope, not really. It lasted maybe an hour and a half. Now, to those sheltering in place, unsure of what's happening, that would be a very long 1 1/2 hours. But, it's not most of the morning. This is why I rarely watch/listen to the news.

I relayed what I knew to key folks, barraged heaven with thank you prayers, and continued with my day. No message yet from Phil, but having an idea of how things worked, I just waited.

And, sure enough, about 1/2 hour his message lit up my screen.

"All done. Long line at the bathroom!"

Yeah, honey, I love you too.

So, we'll talk a bit this evening, and then, simply put it away in that  back corner of our minds, making that choice to not let fear take over our lives. We'll enjoy the twits, each other, our family, and more.

But, I have to tell you, I'd just as soon not do this again any time soon.

 

 


So Many Stories

Cookie bowl

Yesterday afternoon, after a "no good horrible very bad day," (Thank you, Judith Viorst, for that wonderfully accurate group of words!), I curled up, just wanting to go home. Managing a group of middle school students...as a sub, no less...on one of the last remaining days of the school calendar year is not for the faint of heart. Neither of us much wanted to be where we happened to be.

Mrs. M. poked her head in, quietly asking me if it would bother me if she cleaned, and I immediately relaxed. No matter that she had a schedule of things to get done, after working a full day already, she put my comfort ahead of her "to do" list.

As she worked, we chatted back and forth about how our days had gone, and I asked her about her summer plans.

A huge smile broke out, and eyes twinkling, she told me, "School. I'm going back to school."

Delighted I pressed for details, and without hesitation, she filled me in.

"I'm going to learn computers and how to manage an office. I want to help my husband. And, most of all, I want to learn to write English. I can speak it, read it, but I am not so good with with the writing."

By now, we both smiled, me in sheer delight that this lovely woman, some 40 years of age, I think, was willing to put herself out into a great unknown area. She smiled, I'm guessing, because someone took the time to hear her story.

You see, Mrs. M. works during the school day in the school cafeteria, and immediately after to her duties as janitor. She never seems to stop moving. I know she's a fantastic cook, her fresh guacamole and other "special" dishes, made everyone's day.

My dad always reminded us to "see" and acknowledge those faceless workers we tend to ignore - the cooks, the janitors, the delivery men, the folks who pick up the trash. We tend to take them, and what they do, for granted.

It always pays off, human kindness, taking me into some one else's world and outside of mine (which in this case pretty much involved self pity), and you can bet that there's going to be a great story.

I asked if she would miss the school and the cooking, and she answered immediately with a soft yes.

Pausing for a moment, she continued, "You see, I think this is my gift, to be of service.  To nurture and take of others with my cooking."

Wow, what a lesson and wake up call for me. Yes, I'd pretty much been through the ringer with the day's events, but where I curled up and tried to shut out the world, she kept right on moving. The kids whiz by the cafeteria staff, most of them not even making eye contact. Not so much out of rudeness, but simply eager to eat and then play outside.

Despite this, with love, kindness, and talent, seldom being thanked for her efforts, she would miss it all.

I told her that I admired her, her willingness to learn, to serve, and that I'd keep her in my prayers. I told her that I meant that, and my words were a promise to her.

She asked me to pray for her son, a former student, because he was heading to Iraq, and she was worried. Of course, I answered "yes."

If I hadn't asked those few questions, I'd never have been rewarded with the beautiful hopes and dreams behind this woman, who simply wanted to serve.

All of us have stories behind our faces, stories we all want to tell. We want to be seen and heard.

Being a collector of stories, well, it doesn't get much better.

 

Note: the above photo shows my mother's "cookie bowl" with stories all its own. I shot it last week as part of an online class assignment, and it seemed to be a perfect fit. My only regret from yesterday's encounter with Mrs. M., is that I should have asked to take her photo.

 


Tiny, Ordinary Minutes

Herbs

"Enjoy this life, friends. Everyday you wake up is the opportunity to start fresh. Every day you wake up is a gift, a miracle. May you find tiny miracles and magic throughout your day today."

                                                                       - Gertrude Stein

Most of us woke up this morning to the horror of Orlando; it seemed almost impossible to find magic.

Phil and I sat, talking over breakfast. Trying to figure out why so much hate exists in our world, why so many people need to nurse grudges and slights until they bloom into some horrible entity of their own.

It takes so much energy to nurse hate, so damn much, and I see people everywhere doing so - whether they're in my own family circle, the places we work, tiny towns to big cities. No one can seem to let go; hate and grudges eat away at them daily.

After the initial articles, we decided to put the unceasing chatter about today's events aside, to not let it consume us. Reading and re-reading the horrible facts, listening to the news, just put a deeper hole in our hearts.

I prayed for all those who didn't get the gift of a new day this morning, for their families and friends who are hurting. I carried them all in my heart today, and I'll carry them there for a long time.

But rather than sit and moan about what this world is coming to, moan about what the government should or should not be doing, rail against the evils of guns, or more, we decided to celebrate this gift of life. Maybe it sounds strange, but in the deciding to celebrate (and maybe celebrate is not the best word, but it's the only word I've got right now) this gift of today is the best way I can  honor those who had this gift so horribly yanked from them in the wee hours of this morning.

We wandered out into the hills, the foothills of the mountains, stopping at a favorite winery. Wine got tasted, cheese and fruit nibbled on. Conversation about all the ordinary, and a few not so ordinary moments of our own lives, filled the hours. We watched dogs tussle, babies coo. We listened to laughter filled conversations.

We wandered over to the vines, enjoyed the wildflowers, and just watched life go by.

As I'm typing this, Phil is planting herbs in some upcycled flower pots that had, quite frankly, seen better days. (Can you tell how much I love color? These pots never fail to make me grin.) It seems like a good thing to do right now, this nourishing of life.

We'll tend the pots all summer, drying the herbs, infusing them into olive oil, and giving them all as Christmas gifts. Packages of life and love sent out to those we love.

I can't take away Orlando. I can't take away the grief so many feel right now.

What I can do is not waste my own life, not fill it with hate and grudges. I need to work on this in me, my own life. Because, as they say, if I can't fix my own life, how can I fix the world?

Mindfulness is a hard gig; so is compassion. It's much easier to hate what and who we don't understand. But, Lord, it does weigh us down.

I started letting go of hate/grudges some years back; I'm still working at it; I'll be working at it as long as I live, I suppose. It's worth it though.

Carrying around joy is a much better deal.

I can offer smiles, not frowns. I can refuse to spew hate.

I can extend acceptance and do a lot less judging (So darn instinctive, this judging.) I can offer forgiveness to those who've hurt me personally; they might not accept. I know that.

It's so easy to pray for friends, for those we love and who love us back.

It's not at easy to pray for our enemies and mean it. The idea of praying for an enemy baffles most folks; I know it did my sixth graders, and me at times, as well.  Before we prayed the Mass together each Fridat, I would remind them to choose one person who hurt them during the week, and then to pray for that person during Mass. I think they did, at least most of them.

Every day we wake up is a gift; treasure your days, days filled with tiny ordinary minutes and tiny ordinary miracles. Live your life as a prayer.

 

 

 


Yardflowersmint

It seems to be the kind of day that makes me yawn, makes me want to snuggle under the covers and read before I ease into the day.

In so many ways, it's a Bella Grace day, at least the day's beginning. I savor this publication, the heft and texture of its pages a treat for anyone who adores paper. I get lost in the photography, studying it, gleaning ideas, simply enjoying.

Part of me wants to gulp it down in one go, but I'd lose so much. So, I settled in to enjoy the first piece, "Hello There, Friend," by Beth Lehman & Lindsay Crandall, two online friends.

A year ago, February, the two women decided to collaborate, writing each other a series of letters, always including a photograph. What I love, is that the letters focus on everyday moments, hopes, fears, and dreams. Both hoped to become more mindful, more present in their own lives.

I'll be rereading this piece, but I wanted to share a few lines by Lindsay:

"The ordinary is like meditation; it's like prayer. We say the same things and do the same things over and over again. Yet, each time we utter the prayer, each time we do the mundane task, it pulls us in a bit deeper if we let it...They are the beautiful, ordinary stuff of life."

Later, she writes: "I grab onto the quiet when I can, like a piece of driftwood floating by."

And, later yet, "Do the work that feeds your soul."

As I read the back and forth letters from these two women, I loved that each acknowledged the very real struggle it is to be mindful, acknowledging the mundane activities that fill our lives. They kept it real.

Keeping it real needs to happen more often; I struggle to stay mindful, even for a few minutes sometimes, let alone the day. I forget to be grateful, to be content, despite my ongoing work to do so.

Heading downstairs, I thought, ok, try again. Try again and again until it starts to work.

7:30 found me pulling out the ingredients for blueberry muffins, enjoying the textures and smells. Pulling out the "cookie bowl," one passed down by my mother, I began the process, making myself go slow, thinking about all the times my mom had used the bowl.

But, even trying to stay mindful, my mind wandered...the chipmunks outside the kitchen window are just too darn cute!

And, then, somehow, I focused on the mint growing, the mint that had escaped the pot last summer and rooted itself on the edges of the walkway.

Growing up, our yard was a delight...wild berries growing on the edges of the woods tasted like summer, and always, always, the smell of mint. Much to my dad's puzzlement, I headed for the mint every time I came home. Sometimes, finding it became difficult, since along the way, dad determined it to be a weed, and one to be cut back every chance he got. I always found some, though not always in the same spot. I think it became a game between the two of us.

Once, I popped the muffins into the oven, I grabbed some scissors and headed outside...two kinds of mint, some lemon balm, a tiny orange wildflower, and one of the first hydrangeas still opening up.

Back inside to arrange my treasures, crushing leaves as I went, taking time to inhale scents of lemon and mint. Heaven!

Then, spreading butter across the still warm muffins. Oh, yum.

And, now, it's time for the mundane - time to vacuum, clean bathrooms, and so on.

No matter. There's tomorrow morning and a new piece to be read.

Life is good, don't you think?

We just need to be open to its gifts, to ways to feed our souls, and to the many ways we can pray.

Tiny simple ways, tiny simple gifts packing an awful lot of power.