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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Of Gold and...


All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

I've been looking for a small jar of paint-on glitter for a wall-hanging I'm doing. Can't find it anywhere, though I know it's here. As I was searching my brain this morning, assessing where I've looked, where I haven't, where it still might be hiding, the phrase, “all that glitters is not gold” popped into my mind. Does that happen to you? Do little snatches of long-forgotten catch-phrases jump into your awareness unbidden? Where did that come from, you may wonder. Well, when it happens to me these days, I jump right back—I Google it. That's how I found this little gem from Tolkien this morning. My sons tell me it's from a song in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

We are naturally drawn to glitter, aren't we? We relish celebrity, are endlessly curious about royalty, envy wealth and all the richness in lifestyle it brings. Lots of times, we are so absorbed in what is shiny, we don't even notice what else is in the picture, behind the scenes, so to speak. One thing I like about PBS, is that they often produce documentaries that feature not just the stars of their productions, but all the support staff. Who's behind the camera, who's making the costumes, who's applying the make-up and creating the authentic period set. These people may be invisible to us, but the show would not happen without them.

There are millions of “gold” people in this world; people we rarely see or think about, who simply go about their days providing the things we need. I think about the road crews who pick up litter, who lay down asphalt, fill pot-holes, and who, even when the heat-index is 110 degrees, are out there making our lives easier. And the bread-makers, cooks, all those ladies in white aprons and gauze hats, who put chickens on the rotisserie spikes at the supermarket, and all the other unrecognized folks who just make life better for all of us. They may not glitter, but they are sure enough gold.

Recently, someone said that their sons “would never amount to anything,” because they have not settled into one career path and stuck with it, whether they liked the work or not. That person apparently did not realize that the average millennial will have at least five career tracts in their lifetime. All who wander are not lost; some of us are meant to wander. Our souls require it. The Wanderer is an archetype who moves from place to place, gathers stories, enters into other people's lives and changes their dynamics, and then moves on. They are necessary change-makers, not lost souls.

Celebrity is great, I suppose, but it is rarely earth-shifting. The roots of celebrity are fickle and shallow. It comes and goes, sometimes in the twinkling of an eye. What is deep-rooted and wizened, without being stagnant or rigid, is the wisdom gained from a lifetime spent listening to the heart's guidance. Your heart's guidance, and no one else's.

                                                                   In the Spirit,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Season's Turning


The leaves fall patiently.
Nothing remembers or grieves.
The River takes to the sea,
the yellow drift of leaves.”
Sara Teasdale

Autumn has finally arrived here in Alabama. Cool mornings and warm afternoons are a blessed break after a long summer of hellish heat. We won't have beautiful fall colors this year—too dry. But no one complains because of gratitude for the chill in the air. For the first time in my life, I saw a forest fire on the drive up to North Carolina last week; just over the Georgia line, near Rising Fawn. And a grass fire on the way to Leeds the week before. The earth is dry, dry, dry here. Seasons---we all have them, don't we?

I attended a wedding over the weekend. The daughter of a good friend and her handsome beau. It was, as with all weddings, lovely, sweet, complicated. Both sets of divorced parents listened while their children vowed to love, honor, and cherish each other until death parts them. That's a season in itself, isn't it? I sat at the bountiful reception, drinking champagne and munching on crackers with humus and blue cheese, and couldn't hear one word of the conversations going on around me because the music was so loud. Did I like loud music as a young person? Probably. That's a season, most definitely. Afterward, my voice was hoarse from having yelled so much. And I have to say, being an old woman at a wedding filled with robust young people, I experienced myself as crone for the first time. I thought of all the fairy tales in which the crones bring either blessings or curses to the wedding. Most of them bring blessings, but there's always that one outlier, who brings a poison spindle or some such. Hope I'm a blessing crone.

I've come to appreciate the seasons of life. I don't worry about wrinkles, or drooping body-parts. There's a freedom in being at an age when being pretty is not the priority. I love the young people I know; the way they think, the way they live and the things that are important to them. I want to hear their thoughts and bask in their energy, but I don't want to be them. We have seasons for a reason.

I'm participating in an art show in a couple of weeks—November 5th. This will be my very first time to show my “art” though I think of what I do as “craft.” This is a new season, a spring of sorts for me. I'll let you know how it goes. We've all got a few springs in us, whether we're young or old, and we've got a few winters, too. I hope you find the spring in yourself on this autumn day—ice thawing, rivers running, the world coming alive. I send you a crone's blessings.

                                                               In the Spirit,

Monday, October 24, 2016

What You Leave Behind


Everyone must leave something behind when we die, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way...and when people look at that flower you planted, you're there...It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hand away.”
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

I wonder whether you're like me and attach memories to objects. I have a berry-bowl, white with strawberries on it, chipped and barely recognizable. It belonged to my former mother-in-law. I think of it simply as “Sara's bowl,” and remember her every time I pull it out to rinse berries. I have quilts, now shredded from age, made by my great-aunts, Lyda and Bess, and a baby afghan crocheted by my grandmother, Mayda. Now and then, I find swatches of fabric left over from dresses my grandmother, Mama, made for me as a child. I have my dad's dress jacket from when he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy during World War II. I have no actual use for these things other than the fact that they contain memories of someone I loved.

With Aunt Lane's death, I am reminded of what it means to leave a legacy. To have touched something so deeply, that it holds a little piece of you forever. A friend told me about a woman-friend of his, who traveled to Africa, and was introduced to children who live in a orphanage. She was so moved by their plight, that she came home and raised money to support first a few children, and now, the entire orphanage. Recently, I wrote about the donations of bird-seed that poured into the hospice house my aunt was in after her daughter, Anne, posted on Facebook that staff were footing the bill for it. The first donations amounted to 120 pounds; since Lane's death on Friday, 200 pounds more have arrived. People leave their mark on this world—an indelible impression that carries forward for as long as other people remember. That's true for good, or for ill.

Ray Bradbury first published Fahrenheit 451 in 1953—people are still reading it, still quoting from it. You could say it changed the zeitgeist of a nation. So many other names could be mentioned—too many for listing here, but you have your own list of long-gone people, whose work, or words, or kindness changed your life. The difference between a lawn-cutter and a real gardener, Ray Bradbury wrote, “is in the touching.” What we touch with our hands, and with our hearts, what we give ourselves fully to, is imbued with our spirit. And, that spirit is immortal. It will stand as a reminder of the lives we've lived for a long, long time. What will your legacy be?

                                                         In the Spirit,

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gathering the Stories

Telling Tales

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Well, my sweet Aunt Lane finally allowed the angels and saints to carry her away on Friday. She went into hospice on May 21st, ostensibly to die within a few days, but she got rejuvenated by the stories her children told as they sat at her bedside, and decided she wanted to hear more. So, she stuck around for five and half months banking up stories, correcting her offspring when she needed to, making sure they got the details straight. That's one of the best things that happens when a loved one is dying—everybody uses that idle, waiting time to tell stories, and all of them are different. Stories are our life-blood, they keep us glued together. We need to share them to remember how we got to be who we are, even when they are painful, but especially when they make us laugh.

I think the laughter of children and grandchildren when recounting the old family stories is music to a dying person's ears. It gives them confidence that they did not participate in the creation of some truly angry and messed up people, that those whom they love are going to stick together and support one another when they're gone. It gives them the freedom to let go and let God, so to speak. It also helps the family left behind realize how much history they share, and how important they are to one another.

But you don't have to be dying to appreciate a good story, or to have a deep need to tell your own. Brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, colleagues and cohorts bond around their shared stories. When we tell a story, we reveal ourselves in ways we don't under other circumstances. We move information into an open space, so that others around us can see it. To be sure, too much information is shared at times, but revealing our memory stories helps us to realize that we do, indeed, have a beating heart, and so do others. One never knows what another person is carrying around in the way of history and experience until they tell it in a story. That changes our perception of them.

Don't wait till someone is dying to get their stories, or to share your own. Let down your ego defenses, and allow someone you trust to know exactly who you are, and how you got to be you. Heart connections water our stories into full bloom. Goodbye to Aunt Lane—I miss her already, but we'll keep telling tales about her and laughing.

                                                                In the Spirit,


Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Blessing of...

Common Sense

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
Clive Jones

Good, old-fashioned common sense seems in short supply these days. I've tried to analyze this phenomenon as to cause and origination, and always come up at a loss. But here's my working hypothesis, one which I've now heard from a number of researchers who know far more than I do about just about everything. Common sense is acquired by doing common things, failing at some, succeeding at some, and learning from both failure and success.

Here's a case in point: When I was sixteen and had a brand new drivers license, my daddy owned an big, new Pontiac Bonneville—if you were of age in 1962, you know that means a land yacht of epic proportions. My cousin, Sandy, and I drove it uptown (all of 3 blocks from my home and easily walked) and I endeavored to park it in a public parking lot. Now, common sense would dictate that a car of that size would be difficult to park in a crowded parking lot, especially one that had straight-line parking spaces, but at 16, I had zero common sense, so I tried. I began by hitting the door of the car on my left side, then tried to back out and caught the bumper of the car on my right side, panicked and gunned the engine, hitting a car in the row behind me—now four cars, including my dad's, were trashed. My response to this calamity was to leap from the car, now diagonally blocking the traffic lane so that no one could pass, and run to the police station several blocks away. I entered, bawling like someone had just shot a baby, and screaming, “I just wrecked four cars in a parking lot! Help me, please!” After the shocked policemen stopped laughing, two of them very civilly walked back to the parking lot with me, extricated my car from the snarl of metal and rubber, and called my dad to come get it. It was a spectacular display of moronic misjudgment—from which I learned a great lesson. Ever since, the cars that I own are compact.

I wonder how often these days we allow children to learn things the hard way. There is now a good bit of research about the effects of over-protecting children, and taking care of their mistakes for them. We want to be good parents; I get that, but what happens as a result is that our children grow up to be incompetent adults. One of my sons worked for a couple of years in a recovery center. He spoke often about having to teach young men how to operate a washing machine, use a can opener; how to make a bed, and other simple household chores. Our children learn how to do things by trial and error, by trying and failing, and if we never allow them the dignity of that opportunity, they may earn multiple graduate degrees, but simply not have the walking-around sense to take care of themselves as adults. Common sense dictates, and research supports, that when we do something for a child that they can do for themselves, we undermine their confidence in their own abilities. That is not good parenting.

Everybody should be allowed to make stupid mistakes when they're young—how else will they learn? Learning such things as how to ask for help when they need it, where to go to get that help, and that they don't have to take themselves so darn seriously are life-long, and life-sustaining lessons. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had this to say about it: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” We need more of that.

                                                             In the Spirit,


Friday, October 21, 2016

Define "Good"

God's Goodness

The Bible consistently describes God as good. But some say [God] isn't good or that some of the things [God's] done aren't good. Are there different definitions of good?”
Tim Kirkpatrick (“God is Good,” Life Hope & Truth Website)

Southerners like to say, “God is Good,” by way of greeting—similar to the “Namaste” greeting in Hindu, which is, “God in me honors God in you.” Some of us follow with the salutation, “Have a blessed day.” The greeting is meant for good, for blessing, but it always raises questions in me. I have learned, over the years, to keep my questions to myself on this subject, because I know the intention behind it is positive, and because people look askance at me when I ask them. Nevertheless...

There are several definitions of what it means to be “good.” As Tim Kirkpatrick says in his article, it can be a matter of perspective. From my perspective, if I receive something positive—say, I win the lottery—that would be good because it benefits me. God is good if I win the lottery, right? But, what if my winning the lottery means that you, who may need the money more than I do, lose. Good for me, bad for you. Hope you didn't need that money for a liver transplant, or something. Is God implicated in that?

Kirkpatrick writes, “How people define 'good' can also have to do with the matter of time.” In other words, there is a short-term perspective, and a long term one. If God pleases me today, say, by letting me win the lottery, then God is good. This leaves out the possibility of what happens next year, or five years from now. What if I become a derelict sot as a result of winning big money; what if I become a compulsive gambler, leave my family and my job to live all day in a casino. Short-term good sometimes leads to long-term not-so-good. How does God figure into that?

Some of us consider “good” to mean niceness, or good manners. Kirkpatrick calls our term, “politically correct,” institutionalized niceness. We Southerners can say nice things with a forked tongue, let me tell you. We can say lovely things that have no basis in truth or honesty. We can smile to your face, and be generous with our compliments, fain humility and loyalty, and not mean a single word of it. I'll bet you have some experience with that, too. Where is God in all that?

Perhaps God's goodness is on the long-term plan. What if all that happens—good or bad, by our definition—is part of God's working out the kinks, of tweaking God's creation. Sometimes the “bad” things that happen in our lives utterly change us, change our hearts and our trajectory. Sometimes loss, even disaster, is exactly what we need to turn our lives around, and take a different direction toward a better outcome. Who knows? Only God—and God is good, right?

                                                                          In the Spirit,

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remember the Golden Rule?

Simple Kindness

One who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others. He is considerate of others' feelings and courteous in his behavior. He has a helpful nature. Kindness pardons others' weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all—to the aged and the young, to animals, to those of low station as well as high.”
Ezra Taft Benson

One of my next door neighbors leaves his dogs, two large black labs, outside at night. One of them tunes up about 3 a.m. and barks until someone comes out to feed him around 6. He's a big dog; his bark is loud, and he may as well be standing in my bedroom. I turn on fans, and do everything I know to block out the sound, to no avail.

Kindness, in my world view, is a big, broad category that includes things like thinking before you speak, not saying things to intentionally injure, and checking behavior that seems to create an awkward environment. It means thinking first, period. Asking oneself questions such as, how will my words affect others; can say what I need to say, and still remain respectful? Is there a way to accomplish what is needed without causing ill will, or bad feelings? Can I do it without shaming the other person? It means going against the grain of one's instinct, and instead, putting the priority on civility.

I'll be honest, everything in me wanted to go next door and sit on his doorbell at 3 a.m. I wanted to give him the tongue lashing of his life for his inconsiderate behavior to both his neighbors and his dogs. I thought momentarily of calling the police, and asking them to intervene for me. But I didn't. Instead, I wrote a note telling him that his dogs keep me awake at night, and it would be much appreciated if he simply brought them inside with him. And, then, I went and taped it on his door.

In these days of cyber bullying, coarse language and unacceptable behavior in politics, we have the choice as individuals of whether to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. We can give in to our gut instinct to attack, or we can practice the heart-skills of respectful dialog. We can be hateful, or we can be kind. We can put into practice the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It may be old fashioned, but it still applies.

                                                                    In the Spirit,