A Box of Memories

“Memories…May be beautiful and yet…What’s too painful to remember…We simply to choose to forget.”

Bergman/Hamilsch “The Way We Were”

“Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

Author Unknown

It’s nearly time for my annual game of Holiday Decoration Tetris. In the past few years, I’ve downsized considerably, resulting in fewer boxes and bins, so the game has become less exciting, but it’s a challenge nevertheless. Before I can extricate the plastic tubs from the front closet where they have resided… pushed aside, ignored, and buried…for the past eleven months, I have to remove a big box of Easter baskets and artificial flowers that has been unceremoniously stashed on top. Then I need to move the extra, oak, table-leaves that are leaning precariously against the box holding my senior-citizen-living-alone-sized artificial tree. After all the bins have been liberated I will gingerly remove the lids and inspect the contents. To the casual observer, the contents would appear as a collection of inconsequential junk… little plastic sculptures, fragile bits of colored glass, and painted popsicle sticks together with scraps of paper glued and glittered. But, in actuality, they are the tangible manifestation of love and connection held together by memories.

O, ChristmasTree
2020

Most of the holiday trimmings I collected over the years have gone to my children, been sold at the church bazaar, or have simply vanished in the foggy mist of time. The remaining boxes hold only that which is most meaningful. I have a large glass ornament that hung on my mother’s childhood tree.  In its final years, it is nearly naked of paint and gold bits that once adorned it.  I have a few brightly-colored, delicate treasures that have survived from the 1950s.  I remember them from as far back as I can remember.   During the 1970s,  on the day after Christmas, I rushed out, along with many other shoppers in my small town, to purchase Hallmark decorations at half price.  I no longer have most of those bargains, but the few that remain help me recall the love and joy of another place and time.  Art projects from school, church, and crafting days at home hold special memories. I pause momentarily when I take them from the box picturing the tiny fingers that created them and wishing that I could hold those little hands just once more.

More than any other time of year, the holiday season stirs our senses and calls our memories into the present. I hear Silent Night, and I am singing with family and friends outside the Methodist Church on a long-ago Christmas Eve as snow freckles my nose. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise transport me to my grandmother’s root cellar with crocks and tins filled with Lebkuchen, Russian Teaballs, and Springerles. Reminders and memory joggers are inescapable. They surround us with connections to people and places we can only visit in our memories. The reliving often brings us comfort, smiles, and joy; but it may also carry feelings of melancholy, loss, and sadness; and an imperative to treasure the present moment and use it to create fresh memories that will give us succor in the future.

I’m not totally sure if it is an age thing or a Covid thing, but I have lived much of this past year…not just this coming holiday season…with a strong reliance on memories and a great deal of longing for the past… for the way things were before coronavirus, rapid-tests, or KN95s…or… at least the way I think they were. So it’s a bit disturbing when I consider the signifant role memories have been playing in my life…especially when I can’t seem to recall what day it is or why I went into the kitchen. I’ll be the first to admit that much of what I choose to remember has been colored by the rosy tint of my glasses. I’m reasonably good at dismissing those memories that don’t tell the story I want to hear.

“In personal life, the warm glow of nostalgia amplifies good memories and minimizes bad ones about experiences and relationships, encouraging us to revisit and renew our ties with friends and family. It always involves a little harmless self-deception, like forgetting the pain of childbirth.” 

Stephanie Coontz

In September, after a two-year absence, I returned to two places that have held great meaning in my life…places where my spirit is most at home…Stratford, Ontario and Star Island off the coast of NH. Before making the trip, I weighed the risks, precautions, and benefits. As I crossed into Canada and as I stepped onto the dock I literally stopped in my tracks to acknowledge just how lucky I was to be returning…stepping out of my memories…out of my imagining…and into a very tangible present. I seemed to slip outside myself a few times and view the situation with some detachment. I was a cinematographer searching for the best angle to capture my present while being aware that there were flashbacks and parallel scenes I’d want to incorporate in the final production. The present always contains shadows of the past.


Swans…Down the Hill from the Theatre
Stratford, ON 2021

In Stratford, I had tickets for live theatre. How amazing was that? After a canceled season, there I was enjoying two plays. A huge canopy had been erected and masks and other accommodations were in place to keep everyone safe, thus allowing the show to go on. I have enjoyed more than 40 seasons at the Stratford Festival, but this time I was there without the Stratford Gang or any family members. Just me. It could have been a heavy-hearted experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, I did miss having companions, but I could hear their voices, feel their laughter, and see them hurrying through the park toward the theatre hoping to arrive before the trumpets sounded. How could I be lonely? They were everywhere.

The Chapel at Sunrise in September
Midweek 2021

The following week found me on the Thomas Leighton, on my way out to Star Island. In June, when I would have normally been on Star, I was still hesitant about traveling. However, once I understood all the safety precautions being taken, I decided that I had to go. I knew that being on that rock in the Atlantic would feed my soul. A few other Shoalers also felt the island’s pull, but most of my friends would not be there. So much of Star Island is constant: the rocks, the wind, the gulls, and the waves, but the people give it life. I felt the absence of old friends even as the memory of their laughter, kindness, and sense of fun echoed in my heart, encouraging me to create new memories and giving me permission to make new connections.

Our memories, the way we tend to experience them, are sort of fuzzy around the edges, like a watercolor that has bled into the past and is not totally clear.

Lisa Joy

I wonder. When we spend meaningful time in a place do you suppose we leave bits of ourselves…our molecules…in the bricks, boards, and stones? Do you think the memories we create in a place are like a form of our DNA? I have visited many sacred sites where the presence of ancestors has been almost palpable. It’s difficult for me to stand in a very old cathedral without being moved. The architecture is designed to elicit a sense of awe and wonder, but I believe it is the lingering memory of the human activity…weddings, baptisms, funerals, innumerable pleas for help, and prayers of thanksgiving…that inspires me…creating the sacred and making it holy.

People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.

Eckhart Tolle

I saw a rather sad meme on Facebook recently: When the glue of the family passes away, the holidays are never the same. My first response was to sadly agree, but almost immediately, I had to admit that in reality, the holidays are never the same…they are constantly changing…we never get the same one twice. Wee ones grow up and elders pass away, and eventually, it is our turn to become the glue. It is up to us to create the magic and the memories. As I juggle the tubs, boxes, and bins, I realize that memories come out of those containers, but they also go in as well. Whether we are able to gather in person or if we once again connect over Zoom…we’ll be making memories. We won’t keep them all, but our favorites will be placed safely in the boxes and bins, waiting for another year when they too will be taken out, caressed, and treasured.

“When you are gone, the only truly important thing you will leave behind are the memories you’ve created.”

Michael Hyatt; Daniel Harkavy, Living Forward

The Little Black Dress

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”  ― C. JoyBell C.

In the months before the vaccine, I spent many solitary days in my cozy little condo.  I was isolated, but I wasn’t really ‘hermit-like’ alone.  Other humans helped me stay safe and sane. Strangers filled my orders and delivered groceries at my door; a small group led by my minister became weekly support and connection with other women who were isolating singularly; endless Zoom meetings…Zoom Church, committee meetings, and family gatherings, and the daily Minister’s Minute provided by Rev Kate of the UU Meeting House of Provincetown on Cape Cod all sustained me through those often dark days.

Although I am still wearing a mask and being careful to sanitize, I am no longer avoiding the grocery store.  The small group dissolved in the spring when we could get outside. In-person gatherings and Zoom-exhaustion have reduced the number of virtual meetings.  Rev Kate’s messages are now delivered occasionally rather than daily.  Life changes and life continues.

It’s funny the way our lives evolve and transform in completely unexpected ways.  Robert Frost saw two roads diverging in a yellow wood while I see a maze of highways with on-ramps, off-ramps, and roundabouts…none of which has a clear signpost. I may have an idea of where I’m headed, but the destination is never really defined, and detours, roadwork, and slow traffic are pretty much guaranteed. 

The Yellow Wood
Sylvan Solace

One of Rev. Kate’s minutes took me on a path I had not expected nor would have considered in other circumstances. In less than two minutes, Kate got me thinking about what I wear. Now, I’m a strictly jeans and flannel shirt kinda gal, so why was I so drawn to this particular posting…The 100 Day Dress Challenge?

In the clip, Rev. Kate models a dress that she purchased from Wool&.  The company offers $100 toward a reward dress to anyone who wears the dress for 100 consecutive days…and… agrees to take a photo wearing the dress each day. The idea behind it…in addition to being a great marketing strategy…was to encourage limited consumption.  Buying one thing that is well made using sustainable fabrics rather than throwaway garments of fast fashion that many of us take for granted would be better for the planet.  Rev Kate modeled the versatility of the dress she chose, dressing it up and down with items from her closet.  She decided not to do the challenge, but she had gotten me thinking about it.

The first step was joining a Facebook group…touted as the friendliest corner of Facebook…to see how other women were implementing this idea in their own lives, how they wore the dresses, and the lessons they were learning about fashion, sustainability, and themselves.  Don’t forget there was the daily photo requirement to be considered as well.  I was a lurker in the group for some time.  Finally, I decided, what the heck. Why not give it a go?  It was something new, and I didn’t have anything else looming on the horizon.

Of course, nothing is quite that easy.  First, I had to decide which style would be right for me and which color could I imagine myself in every day for three months. I decided on a sleeveless, black Sierra…with pockets!  I ordered the dress in June.  It was on backorder…as most of the dresses were…and would arrive at the end of August!   

Crossing Off the Days
Image Credit: Pixabay

While I waited for the dress to arrive I made a few purchases in preparation. I bought a new deodorant that is safer for humans and wool dresses. I ordered a washing liquid that was specially made for wool.  I also bought several pairs of wool tights from a socially responsible company in Scotland. Buying those things at first seemed a little counterintuitive to the idea of limiting consumption, but then I began to think of it as priming the pump. If I added a little at the beginning, I’d make the 100 days easier and the possibility of success all the more probable.

I will admit, that I went into the entire adventure as a bit of a lark. If I didn’t enjoy the experience, I could always quit. It was a personal challenge, after all. I’d read stories in the Facebook group of women who had thrown in the towel. It wasn’t for everyone, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t follow through…but…maybe I’d learn something, and perhaps it would even be fun.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” )― Lao Tzu

While I waited for my dress, I began to educate myself about the benefits of wearing a merino wool dress.  Not only would I not be investing in new clothes, but I’d also be saving the planet by lessening my laundry. The dress would not need to be washed often. It could be spot cleaned and would naturally repel body odor. Additionally, I learned another trick.  Each night I’d spray the pits with straight vodka.  Yep, vodka…an old theatre trick. Coming home with my first bottle, I thought about Eleanor Oliphant’s weekend pizza and a bottle of vodka. This could be a slippery slope.

Vodka
Image credit: Pixabay

The wearing of this dress has been similar to my becoming a vegetarian. At the time I wasn’t sure if I could do it forever, but I knew I could do it for that day. As the days became months and months became years, I discovered that although I really missed seafood…especially salmon…I was doing something greater than myself. While observing the practices of ethical eating, I was learning how my daily choices affect the planet. I was putting my beliefs into concrete actions. I’m not, however, suffering from sacrificial abstinence. I actually enjoy the foods I eat. Aside from that salmon, it hasn’t been difficult at all…especially when I discovered veggie bacon that isn’t half bad and Beyond Meat is pretty tasty too.

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Jane Goodall

I’ve learned a lot through this experience. While haunting thrift shops for the occasional bargain cashmere or merino sweater, I have been blown away by how much of what we buy is made from petroleum-based fabrics that will remain in a landfill long after we’re gone. The amount of clothing we cast off is also staggering. It seems I’ve moved from lessons on ethical eating to ethical wearing.

By the way…vegetarianism and wearing a little black dress for 100 days are my choices. Of course, they might not work for you. But, you’ll find other ways to serve and heal each other and the world.  There are many roads in that yellow wood.  

The daily photos taught me to make peace with my body. I’ve also learned that a photo taken in good lighting can really diminish wrinkles and improve my mood.  I also confirmed that people don’t look at me as closely as I thought they did.  After all…do you really pay attention to what others are wearing?  What a freeing concept.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

― Rumi

I haven’t quite made it to the 100 days yet…but…I am confident that I will.  Today is Day 75…a little more than three weeks to go. While I am refraining from sharing all the photos or giving you a play-by-play of our activities together…the dress and I…have driven from Michigan to Vermont, attended the theatre in Stratford, Ontario, hugged grandchildren, and ridden in the car with my granddaughter at the wheel. I’ve spent time on the rocks of Star Island, walked miles with my sister, Kelly, through the local parks, and marched in a protest for reproductive freedom with my sister, Penny. Next week the two of us…the dress and I… will fly to Philadelphia and then on to Vermont. 

On my recent trip to Scotland, when I was separated from my luggage for eight days in addition to an extra shirt or two, I had…the dress.  The first night, when we were out for dinner, Kelly and Bill ordered beers and…much to the surprise of the young man taking the order from this old lady…I asked for a shot of vodka.  When the glass arrived, I poured the contents into a small spray bottle that had once contained eyeglass cleaner.  The dress and I were good to go. Of course, a shot isn’t that large, requiring the purchase of yet another bottle of vodka before I was reunited with my bag. Yikes.

I joined the challenge on a whim, but I’ve learned a lot more than I anticipated. I have many questions about my personal consumption, but I also have nearly 100 photos of me having fun!  If this challenge had been burdensome, uncomfortable, or boring I doubt I’d have finished. But, I did have fun…and if you’ve seen me in person, virtually, or through photos since August 23rd…you’ve seen the dress. Did you notice?

I’m not sure what I’ll do on day 101, but there is another Facebook group for those who have reached that milestone.  I can’t wait to see what goes on there. After that, who knows where my path will take me.

I’m considering the purchase of a tiara for the 100th photo. I’ve never had one, and this seems like as good a reason as any.  Stand by.

Driving in the Rain with Patsy

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Unknown
Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 2021

There had been a brief shower earlier in the day, but as we entered The Great Smoky Mountain National Park we were greeted with glorious blue skies filled with brilliant, white, fluffy clouds. Scheduling conflicts, limited time, and mobility challenges kept us on the Newfound Gap Road through the park, but we enjoyed what we could see from the car and stopped briefly at the occasional scenic overlook to grab a snap or two. All in all…it was a splendid afternoon.

As we exited the park onto the streets of Gatlinburg, Tennesee, the mood of those happy clouds suddenly began to shift. A smattering of raindrops eventually became an unexpected torrent. In an instant, buckets of water were thrown against my windshield. I was forced to slow down while the wipers worked furiously to keep my field of vision open. I compensated for limited visibility by following the truck in front of me and keeping my eyes on the white line at the edge of the highway. A few drivers pulled over to the shoulder to wait for the storm to pass, but most slowly and cautiously continued. I was among those who chose to simply press on.

Rain on the Windshield
photo credit: Pixabay

In June, with COVID infections declining and vaccination rates climbing we greeted friends in person, basked in the sunshine of possibilities, and were illuminated by the light at the end of the tunnel. We were once again busy making plans and looking toward the future with joy and optimism. The sudden storm of the Delta variant coupled with vaccine hesitancy abruptly changed everything. Overnight, masks were once again being required, social distancing and limiting contacts were returning even for those fully vaccinated. Plans that we’d thought possible in the spring were being reevaluated. Would we pull over onto the shoulder and wait it out, cancel everything, and prepare for another winter of isolation, or would we…could we…move forward slowly following the safety guidelines, weighing the risk-benefit of our choices…but moving forward nevertheless

“Pandora’s box had been opened and monsters had come out. But there had been something hidden at the bottom of Pandora’s box. Something wonderful…Hope.”

Lisa Marie Rice, “Breaking Danger”

When I met Patsy, in the spring of 2020, I had no idea of just how interconnected our lives would become. One of my few outings that spring was to visit a local nursery. By the time I was brave enough to venture out, most of the plants had been picked over. “Here’s a hanging basket you might like,” suggested the proprietor. He was right. She was a beauty. At first, I thought Patsy might have been called…Bea…you know…for Begonia…but she insisted that she was Patsy.

Throughout the spring, summer, and into the fall, I admired her cheerful nature and delighted in the fact that another living thing depended on me. She gave me purpose. I’m not a gardener, but I kept her watered, fed, and deadheaded until I heard it…that dreaded word…frost! Perhaps Patsy knew that she was an ‘annual’ doomed to die at the end of the season, but I didn’t. I just couldn’t allow my companion to be killed by frost, so I welcomed her inside.

She dropped leaves, became very spindly, and seldom blossomed. I kept her safe inside and she brought me hope. We were both merely trying to hang on, and together we did. As long as Patsy kept turning her leaves to the light, I could too.

The Deck…A Very Happy Place
August 2021

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: something to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”

Tom Bodett…and others

Patsy made it through the winter and the chilly days of early spring to rein this summer as the queen and wise woman of my deck. Instead of her life ending last fall, we both hung on to the hope that life would get better, full of color and blossoms once again. I smile at her every day and I’m relatively sure she smiles back.

I have begun, as a matter of self-care, to limit the amount of time I spend watching the news. It doesn’t seem to be the usual pattern of ups and downs. Lately, it’s just all downs. There is fear, sadness, and loss on many fronts, but there are still reasons to be hopeful. When I have doubts…Patsy is there to remind me.

My Friend, Patsy
August 2021

“This fourth wave is really devastating,” my daughter said. “You need to prepare for the possibility of another winter of isolation. Do you have a plan?”

“I’ve thought about it,” I replied. “I’ve decided that my plan is to be…as much as possible…positive and hopeful. No matter what lies ahead I must approach it with hope. Not hope for anything specific…just expectation and anticipation of a better future.”

“Hope reduces feelings of helplessness, increases happiness, reduces stress, and improves our quality of life.

Extern.org

“Yes,” she continued. But you should still think about what worked for you before and what didn’t and prioritize what you want or need to do before the snow flies. Remember, just because you hope for something that doesn’t make it happen.”

“I am open and I am willing. To be hopeless would seem so strange. It dishonors those who go before us, so lift me up to the light of change.”

Holly Near, ” I Am Willing”

Faith can move mountains, but only if you get out there with a shovel and what Jennifer said was true. I need to at least consider the possibility of another winter of isolation. Maybe even make a plan…but perhaps that’s what hope is all about…anticipating, expecting, and visualizing a favorable outcome… and then moving in that direction.

I could pull off the road, grab some ditch-munchies from the backseat and wait for the storm to pass…a perfectly acceptable choice…cognizant that along with the possibility of sun, there is also the potential for wind and hail..or…to keep my tires on the road, hands firmly on the wheel, and imagine driving slowly out of the storm. Of course, I may be forced onto the verge at some point…the road may flood, the bridge washout, or I might simply run out of gas. I’ll deal with that if I have to, but for now, I will continue cautiously…mask at the ready…in the direction of my dreams, encouraged by Patsy and her steadfast hope for another summer in the sun.

I may not be as positive, optimistic, or brave in the coming days…but I’ll still cling steadfastly to hope until I feel those things again.

Apparently, I Would

“If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Moms Everywhere

“You and I are friends. You cry, I cry. You smile, I smile. You hurt, I hurt. You jump off a bridge, I’m gonna miss your emails.”

Unknown
Upper Falls, Old Man’s Cave
Hocking Hills State Park, 2021

“You know,” said my friend Sarah, “This decision would be a lot easier for you if you didn’t suffer from FOMO.”

“FOMO? What’s that? I asked, puzzled by this new term.

“The fear of missing out,” she replied

Lately, I find the idea of FOMO a stronger motivational force than at any other time in my life. As Senior Citizens, we are encouraged to prioritize our to-do list…a reminder to get busy checking things off while we’re still able.

As my senses and abilities slowly diminish, I recognize that I can no longer run my fastest or jump my highest. I know that there are choices I can no longer make, but I also know that I still want to experience the wonder, savor the sweetness, and enjoy the adventure of life. Perhaps, then, it was FOMO that prompted me…someone terrified of heights… to accept an invitation to join my sister, Penny, and granddaughter, Fiona, on a zipline tour in Hocking Hills of southern Ohio.


We bought our tickets months ago when snow still covered the ground. I figured it wouldn’t break my bank if I decided to chicken out at the last minute, but if I didn’t have a ticket to begin with, I wouldn’t have that option on zip-day. If I chose not to clip in and go, it would still be good, but if I were feeling brave, I’d be ready. In truth, even though I found the entire prospect frightening, I anticipated that eventually, I’d have a great time. So, I bought my ticket and tried to put the whole idea of actually stepping off the platform in the back of my mind.

“You’re not going to chicken out and even if you do…it’s all right.”

Sally Van Cise

Years ago, Kelly, my other daredevil sister, and I joined a group of women to go white water rafting down the Gauley River in West Virginia. One of the women in our raft was afraid of water, didn’t know how to swim, was terrified the entire time, and wouldn’t help paddle or assist with the raft. She had decided to join the expedition as a test of her faith which was fine, but she put everyone in the boat at risk and, at the first possible moment, was removed from the river by the rafting company.

I did not want to be that person…and yet…I knew there were similarities.

I began to gather more information about zipping and, more importantly, zipping for people afraid of heights. As the zipping date approached, I sought confidence in lessons from the past. I told myself to be present, take it one step at a time, and paraphrasing Rev. Bill…don’t leave the platform until you leave the platform…anticipating the fear would only multiply it. Breathe in. Breathe out.

My husband’s death left me suddenly without my partner, the other half of my act. Neither of us was especially brave or daring alone, but together we made a great team. He drove on the scary Rocky Mountain roads, and I led the way as a Russian man beckoned us into his home. I had no trouble understanding the Scottish brogue, and he could keep complicated directions in his head. I booked the flights, and he carried the heavy bags. We were a strong combination and had such fun together. Without my teammate, would I be like a Sea Star that can grow another appendage when one is missing and navigate the ocean flawlessly, or would I be like a two-legged three-legged stool that is fit for little else than kindling? Would I be relegated to adventures that didn’t include steep mountain roads or long, high bridges? Would I only be able to return to easily navigated routes or tours specially designed for Senior Citizens? So many questions begging for answers.

If you want to learn to swim, you have to get in the water. If I wanted new adventures, I’d have to be open to them, I’d have to say yes when the opportunity arose, and I’d have to be ready to face my fear if necessary.

We arrived a Hocking Hills Canopy Tours shortly after noon on a simply glorious day. Our guides, Todd and Kelsey, introduced themselves and our fellow Zippers. We were a group of nine; I was the oldest, least fit, and the most terrified. 

My strategy was to take one step at a time, be present, and not focus on what was to come. How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

The harness. The helmet. The gloves. The instruction. The demonstration. The practice.

Stepping up and clipping on to the trial zip was absolutely horrifying. We were only feet off the ground, but it was at that moment that zipping through the trees became more than a theoretical exercise. It was actually going to happen. I thought I might cry or pass out, but I put my left hand on the carriage, my dominant hand…the braking hand…on top, stepped off the platform, and did it. Not well…but I did it.

Thoughts of that rafting trip returned as we were being transported to the first zip. “This is Jump Rock,” said Captain Mike. “It’s not Go Up There and Decide Rock. Once you get out of the raft, there’s only one way back in. You’ve got to jump off the rock.” Once we were clipped onto the zipline, the only option was to zip.

“You’re going to love it. Just don’t be first and be careful not to twist around and come in backwards.”

Shalini Suryanarayana

As I was contemplating this adventure, Fiona, assured me that, “The only difficult step is the first one. After that, you’ll be having fun and won’t even think about it.” That was true for just about everyone in our little squad, but it never really happened that way for me. The first two zips were conditioning me to the idea of being up so high, but I quickly learned that height wasn’t my only concern. Somewhere in the middle of the third zip…Screaming Eagle…couldn’t one of them have been called Floating Feather on the Wind…I began to twist. We had been warned not to come in backward…don’t let yourself twist. As I was trying to adjust my trajectory, I was racing toward the next platform. Where’s the braking signal? I can’t see the signal. Then…slide my right hand onto the line. Push down. Don’t let my feet crash into the tree. Adrenaline rush for sure. Ya, know…I discovered Adrenaline isn’t all that great!

Rope Bridges…Glad I Did It…Don’t Want to Do it Again!
Photo: Hocking Hills Canopy Tours

Between several platforms, we also encountered swinging rope bridges. You’ve seen the movies. As soon as the protagonist steps foot on one of those bridges…it is doomed to break. Gingerly, I propelled myself slowly across the wooden planks with the aid of the ropes and cables. I felt embarrassed about my glacial speed, but once again, it was one step at a time…and…by the way…don’t look down.

Don’t Let the Smile Fool You
June 2021

My son is an amazing athlete who pushes himself to do all kinds of difficult hiking, biking, and climbing challenges. He perfectly describes my experience zipping as Type Two Fun. Type Two Fun occurs when what you’re doing is so hard that it is not enjoyable, pleasurable, or bringing you joy. TTF kicks in afterward when you look back, smile, and say…” Hey, I did that.”

Yes! That’s Actually Me
June 2021

I’m not a big fan of flying, but it’s really just the take-off and landing that I don’t like. Stepping off the platform and trying to avoid crashing into the tree at the next platform was never fun for me. Take-offs and landings. I never got over being utterly terrified, but soaring through the trees was, maybe not first-order fun, but pleasurable, pretty cool…and…I did it!

Isn’t life itself an incredible ride? I’m glad I had a ticket. Take-offs and landings round our lives…birth and death…connected by a long ride through the trees if we’re lucky. Along the way, we have coaches and guides like Todd, who made sure that I was safely secured, given words of encouragement, and then sent on my way, and Kelsey, who would catch me on the next platform, usher me away from danger, help me gain my footing, and give me space to steady my nerves before the next zip. Along with coaches and guides, we are accompanied on the journey by others who have fears and challenges of their own, who wish the best for us, who wait patiently while we summon our courage, and who are there to cheer us on when we meet the test. In the end, no matter our style or comfort level, we all walk the same path back to the jeep, strip off our gear, get a certificate, and have the very same bragging rights. We did it!

I did it!

And Now the Slide Back to Earth
June 2021

*The vast majority of people who decide to zip through the trees like the birds or move squirrel like from tree to tree can manage their fears and actually have great fun. My sister and my granddaughter, for example, did two more zip tours after this one. If you are considering such an adventure, I highly recommend Hocking Hills Canopy Tours near Hocking Hills State Park outside Logan, Ohio. They are truly a class act! Ask for Todd and Kelsey. Tell them a big chicken with a certificate and bragging rights sent you.

The Depth of My Seeing

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright) Bright (bright) sunshiny day.

Jimmy Cliff, I Can See Clearly Now

As I was getting ready to take a bath, the door suddenly opened, and without knocking, in walked my little sister…not an uncommon occurrence in my family. There’s not a lot of privacy with two younger sisters. I had already taken off my top and snaked off my slacks as well. While water filled the tub, I stood waiting in my panties and brand-new training bra.

Interesting concept that…an instructional undergarment. I never truly understood the function of a training bra. Training for what? But I digress and that of course is a discussion for another day.

Penny hesitated momentarily at the door with her mouth agape, shocked by the sight of her older sister sporting a brassiere. She quickly exited down the hall in the direction of our mother, pausing only long enough to shout back at me, “I’m telling Mom you’re wearing a breer!” Slipping into the bathwater I smiled. Yes, I was proudly wearing a “breer” and taking another step toward coming of age.

Don’t we all share similar milestones along our life’s journey? Losing a tooth, learning to drive, graduating from high school, the first job, marriage, children, grandchildren, all leading sooner than we imagined to retirement and Social Security. Cataract surgery, too, I now recognize as a senior citizen rite of passage.

During the past month I checked that off my list. Whoo! Hoo!

The local experts specializing in cataracts have refined the experience to a smoothly functioning assembly line…timed, efficient, and every detail carefully thought out, planned, and practiced. Throughout the entire process…start to finish…I probably saw my surgeon for less than an hour…including the procedure itself…as he moved from patient to patient, eye to eye. He was friendly, proficient, highly skilled…and he looked like he was about 20 years old. On the other hand, as I sat with my fellow patients waiting for our pupils to dilate, it was very evident that we all grew up with Howdy Doody, watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, learned to drive on a standard transmission, and remembered when kids played outside until the streetlights came on. None of us could remember getting old so quickly. By the way, if for any reason, you should ever need to find a collection of senior citizens, the waiting room of a cataract surgeon hits the jackpot!

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

Over the years, I’ve asked many people what they recall about getting their first pair of glasses. Most told me that they were amazed to realize that there were leaves on the trees…not just a mass of greenery, but individual leaves! Of course, they knew theoretically that there were leaves, but until they got glasses, the leaves remained an amorphous green cloud floating above a solid grey trunk. The removal of my cataracts provided a similar experience. Within a couple of hours of the surgery for my first eye, I was amazed at the clarity, brightness, and color of the world around me. I felt like I was going from an old model television to high definition. When I tried to explain this phenomenon to my granddaughter, who has only known HDTV, she said, “Oh, You mean, like when you get a new iPhone”? Yes, that’s it! That’s it exactly.

I had to wait four weeks before I could get my second eye repaired. Even with one very good eye, I was still finding it difficult to read. My frustration with reading prompted me to proceed with the surgical option in the first place. I struggled to read the required texts for my class, and if I couldn’t get my book club pick in large print, it was a nightmare. As the scheduled date for my second eye approached, I began to wonder. What if it isn’t my eyes that are making reading difficult? What if I’m losing my ability to concentrate? What if I’m just not a reader anymore? What if? What if?”

Surgery for the second eye was scheduled for Wednesday morning at 8:25. A few days later, I found myself lost in the pages of a book. By Tuesday afternoon the following week…a mere six days later… I had finished a book of 566 pages! Granted, this was a book I was highly motivated to read, but it proved that I could still enjoy reading!

I was back!

I was overjoyed at my ability to find pleasure in reading again, but what really surprised me was how quickly I forgot how challenging my sight had been before the surgery. I am already accepting clear vision as a matter of course. Unless I get a smudge on the lenses of my glasses, I forget how difficult it had been to see.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly;

I Corinthians 13:12 KJV

Our brains are so amazing that unless we really focus on an experience and try to hold on to the memory the present pushes it to the back of our minds. The beauty of a summer day, the smile of a grandchild, or the taste of a ripe strawberry will easily supersede the pain of negative experience, and while not truly forgotten it is nevertheless dulled and diminished…at least for a time…allowing us to enjoy the blessings of life that remain. Once the bad haircut grows out it is forgotten.

It has been a little more than a year since I wrote a blog post about what I thought it might be like coming out of the pandemic. I imagined that we were all standing on the threshold, moving from before to after. Of course, at the time, none of us could have envisioned just how vast that threshold was. We knew there would be a time after the pandemic, but it was as nebulous as the leaves on the trees pre-glasses.

As more of us are vaccinated and can once again gather in person, I find that it is becoming difficult to remember how painfully lonely I was for months on end as we avoided one another and kept each other safe by social distancing and self-isolating.

The weekly Zoom calls that provided at least a modicum of human interaction during the dark winter months are slowly being discontinued in favor of tentative in-person connections. Mask mandates are being relaxed and I’m finding that lipstick is once again part of my beauty routine. Our lives are quickly falling into a pattern that is comfortable and familiar. We can’t say we’re back, but we’re definitely on the way.

I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.

Mary Oliver

I am no longer worried that I may die from this dreadful infection, but I am worried that we…I…may forget the lessons learned about the value of human connection, human touch, and what’s really important. Rather than seeing the pandemic as the tree with undefined leaves, I might gather those truths that rest among the first leaves of Spring like the blossoms and press them to my heart instead of between sheets of waxed paper. This time of COVID has been painful, frightening, frustrating, and dangerous, but it also revealed a great deal of beauty in the way people supported one another with love, understanding, and kindness. Perhaps, as we emerge, we could remind each other of the blessings and gifts of grace this unique time has given us. Together we might be the people we hoped we’d be…the people we were meant to be.

Coming Out of Hibernation

“You have been asleep since November,” said Frog. “Well then,” said Toad, “a little more sleep will not hurt me. Come back again and wake me up at about half past May. Good night, Frog.”

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends

Did you ever wonder why the famous February groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, retreats into his burrow, or when he does, what happens in the seclusion of his home? It seems to me that if the sun was shining, he’d want to take advantage of it, not spend more time in darkness and isolation. Either way…sunshine or shadow…he heads back underground. The only difference is how long he stays there. So what’s the deal? Once he’s ventured out, why doesn’t he just stay?

Maybe, just maybe, this is what is going on.

Phil peeks his little nose above the edge of the burrow just to check things out, assess the weather, and perhaps grab a cup of coffee and a muffin before waking the Mrs. He’s not expecting company, yet, suddenly he’s hoisted into the air on full display for the paparazzi. He just woke up, for heaven’s sake! He’s lost at least half his body weight during the winter, and his coat is a mess. Back down the tunnel, he goes where he gives his partner, Felicity, a shake. While she yawns and stretches, he finds a mirror and begins to take stock of his appearance. Together they agree that they’re definitely not ready to face the world and vow to remain below the ground until they’ve spruced up a bit. With the goal of a Rubenesque physique, Phil and Felicity put on some pounds with the food leftover from their winter hibernation and try to bulk up a bit…probably lifting weights and adding protein powder to their planet-friendly plant-based diet. They finally emerge six weeks later to greet the sun, green grass, and delicious Spring flowers with a bright coat, plump figure, and a smile. Too bad the paparazzi left weeks ago.

I’m Ready for My Closeup
Photo credit: Pixabay

Of course, I spent the major portion of my life in the company of children and I still often see the world through their eyes…so…perhaps that’s not be exactly what transpires down there in the burrow…but…it could happen.

Lately, I have been empathizing with hibernating animals, which are just waking up after a long period of inactivity in northern climes. The other morning I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and immediately thought…Mama Bear. Granted, my hair was without the twigs and leaves present after sleeping in a den, but it was totally unruly. Unlike Mama Bear, however, who was shocked at her weight loss after my forced hibernation of the past year, I’m shocked at how easy it was to pack on that extra Covid-19.

As the time approaches when we can venture farther from our burrows and dens, many of us are spending time getting back to our before-time selves or at least working to be able to snake into a pair of blue jeans or slacks with a zipper.

Along with extra pounds from recreational eating and lack of mobility, I developed Covid-feet. Yes, I thought it was just me, but evidently, it’s a real thing. Who knew that after a year of wearing slippers around the house without supports, my poor feet would suddenly rebel. The discomfort is real but can be assuaged by forcing my tootsies back into my trusty Keens. The first challenge, of course, was digging out my shoes from the back of the closet, then…squeezing my splayed feet into them. Oh, I so empathize with Cinderella’s sisters!

After the shoes, I moved on to a new, multi-step skincare routine suggested by my daughter-in-law, Jenna. I love how the products feel on my face, and I was quite pleased with how young my skin looked. I learned a bit later while preparing for a Zoom meeting that the disappearance of 70 years of lines was probably due more to good lighting than the beauty products I was applying. Still, it’s become part of my daily routine, so I keep smoothing it on and hoping for a miracle in a bottle.

A Miracle in a Bottle?
Photo credit: Pixabay

Once the skincare routine was underway, I began a plan of making better choices with my diet and exercising more. I track my steps and try to steadily increase the number I take in a day. When I can’t get outside, I have developed a route inside my little condo. I walk with small weights in time to an endless variety of Beatles’ songs, but to pick up the pace, occasionally I crank up the volume for a little Lynyrd Skynyrd and zip around the place to the 70’s version of “Gimme Three Steps.” It’s the perfect length between the eyedrops I was prescribed after cataract surgery…yep, check that off the list, too… and I get a five-minute mini-workout. I suppose to the neighbors, I look like one of the shooting gallery ducks going back and forth past the window, but hey, I’m getting steps in.

I’m almost ready to venture out and be seen by the world again. The problem, of course, is that just like Phil and Felicity, I’ll soon discover that the paparazzi is not waiting for my triumphal return. My wise and funny friend, Suzanne, said, “Never worry about what you look like in a group photo. No one is looking at you. Everyone is looking at themselves.”

No One’s Looking at You
Young ladies of Notman’s printing room, Miss Findlay’s group, Montreal, QC, 1876

As the world begins to spin once again and the momentum increases, the group photo shot philosophy will become more apparent. We’re all going to be more concerned about taking our own steps and finding our own balance and equilibrium than worrying much about anyone else.

It’s amazing how quickly our brains were able to sort and reorder the information of our everyday lives. The ability to judge six feet of distance, make sure you always had a mask, and safest place to get groceries suddenly took precedence over whatever occupied our thoughts a year ago. The fact that as time went by, it became more difficult to even remember our time pre-pandemic daily activities was astonishing and a bit disconcerting.

When I haven’t used an app on my iPhone for a long time, it is transferred to the cloud. Nothing is lost; it’s just not taking up space on my device. When I need it again, I simply call it back. Our memories work in much the same way. Those folders full of the minutiae of my life have been filed in the far reaches of my memory. When I need them, I’ll just call them back from the cloud and replace all that no longer useful information…where to get the best masks and hand sanitizer…with how to interact with other humans…the how-to for tasks I used to take for granted. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy, but I’m confident it will happen…eventually.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The pandemic is far from over, but our lives are gradually returning. We’re almost ready. Before we know it, just like that Punxsutawney pair, we’ll venture from our burrows, slink timidly to the edge of the field, and hurry across the lush green grass until we find ourselves once again back in the familiarity of Farmer Brown’s garden.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Gardenal
New Miracles Everyday
Photo credit: Pixabay

Doing My Homework

After this long winter of isolation, when my church offered a class on spiritual exploration, I jumped at the chance. Who knew there would be actual…homework? I haven’t done homework in years. The first assignment was to write a spiritual autobiography documenting our personal religious journey. These we would share together in class. Yikes!

Writing an autobiography of any kind would have been easier if I had taken notes along the way.  As it is, my memories are written on post-it notes, scraps of yellowing paper, and captured in photographs without location or dates…all stuffed in boxes, tucked between the pages of books, left unattended in old suitcases, and scattered across the top of my desk.  To truly make sense of all this ephemera would take much longer than the time allotted for the assigned task, but perhaps I can begin by sorting the debris into stacks and piles.

Gathering the bits together, I realized that I have forgotten a great deal of my life. That realization caused me to feel embarrassed and somehow lacking until I recalled the words of the Irish priest and poet John O’Donahue. “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  I think that is pretty much how I’ve lived my life… simply being carried along by the current, paddling hard through the rapids and around the rocks, enjoying the sun on my face when drifting on the quiet water, and approaching each new bend with curiosity, wonder, and courage…as well as a wee bit of trepidation and hesitancy. I haven’t spent a great deal of time looking back at the water that carried me.

The Chippewa River…Sylvan’s Solace
October 2020

Creating a lifeline and guessing where I am on it reminded me of when a new woman was invited to join Book Babes, my Vermont book club. She said that she’d like to ask three questions to get to know us.   All of them were unusual for getting acquainted questions, and I’ve forgotten two of them, but the third stuck with me.  She asked each of us in turn how long we wanted to live.  I replied that I wanted to live until I died.  My answer was in no way intended to be cheeky or flip. As I age, I realize that It’s not the length of life that concerns me. It is the loss of meaning, purpose, and joy that worries me. On the other hand, my definition of meaning, purpose, and joy are also constantly evolving.  I have had the example of women who lived…and are living…wonderful active lives well into their nineties, but I have also seen my grandmother disappear into Alzheimer’s. Yes, I definitely want quality…but then… quantity would be nice too.

There are a finite number of marbles in my jar…just so many big trips and grand adventures left.  I’m angry that the pandemic has robbed me of some of those cat-eyes and clearies…places I wanted to go and plans I wanted to make…but in some sense, living through a pandemic is a pretty big shooter as marbles go…a once in a century adventure… just not one I would have chosen.

An Unknown Number of Marbles in The Jar
Photo credit: Pixabay

 “I was going to decide whether I had a marble-worthy day based on how I felt, not based on what I did…I want to approach my time moving forward with an infinite mindset. I want to “feel” supported, loved, seen and I want to depend on my circle of truth-tellers who I’ve chosen to be there for me.”

Maria Shriver, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper

Even with so many pieces of my spiritual journey misplaced, lost, and forgotten, I am finding the task of condensing it to a manageable size without resorting to an “and then” story very challenging.  Deciding what…or how much…I want to share is also part of the process. Then, too, as I continue my sorting, I discover with very few exceptions…people, places, and events don’t fit easily into a single category.  Most of them overlap, very few stand-alone.  The same people and places keep appearing, transforming, and reappearing. So, I continue to sort and re-sort then sort again.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

African Proverb

As I modify and alter the collection of souvenirs and guidebooks from my spiritual journey, a pattern emerges.  Throughout my entire life, I have been supported, shaped, and influenced by my relationship with people…my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children, my teachers, my long-time friends, my new friends, and even momentary connections with strangers. Together we have shared deep discussions about life, spirituality, and ethics, as well as the going rate for the tooth fairy, which way the toilet paper should hang, and jokes on the level of a Fifth-grade boy.  We have held each other in times of loss and pain and spent hours just sitting side by side in silence.

These people have joined me in my travels too. Together we have stood in awe in the mountains of Sedona, been lost inside St Basil’s Cathedral, slept in a wee cottage on the shore of Loch Fyne, watched a storm brew in the Atlantic Ocean, emerged from a 5000-year-old burial mound at Newgrange, and enjoyed countless hours in a darkened theatre in Ontario. Each experience has revealed another facet of what I recognize as sacred and divine. Through my relationships, I have understood, found meaning, and been blessed by these revelations.

“A good friend listens to your adventures. Your best friend makes them with you.”

Unknown

As I stuff all the bits and pieces back in the containers from which I gathered them, it occurs to me that perhaps we write an autobiography not so much for others as for ourselves. Through writing, we give voice to what we already know. I may leave out the twists and turns in the telling, but my path has led me to the perfect destination…the realization that human connection and traveling are spiritual practices. Talking with friends, being with my sisters, planning short jaunts and long trips are no longer inessential distractions or rewards. They are necessary, important, and sacred—what a delightful surprise.

“Do you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, airplane motors, and train whistles.”

George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life

Of course, during this pandemic, those were the most difficult things for us to do…travel and be with others, yet we are resilient. We have discovered ways to connect and share our lives without being physically close. We read maps, make plans, and create itineraries for future adventures even as we explore new ways to make meaning and find purpose from our living rooms, dens, and kitchens. And so, the journey continues, and isn’t that an adventure in itself?

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Rumi

I completed my assignment with time to spare. It was then I remembered the second part…the additional task…write your own epitaph. If one day you stumble across a slab of granite with this one carved into it…you’ll know that it’s me.

“I told you I was sick”

Cemetery on Elm Street, Montpelier, VT

Shaking My Own Keys

What a pleasant surprise to discover that I am still learning and discovering things about myself even at my age. My latest revelation is that even if there is no one else available…which, let’s face it, for the last year, there hasn’t been…I will shake the shiny keys and amuse and distract myself. Let me give you a case in point.

Just What I Need…A Shiny Set of Keys
“delightful click-clack sound for auditory and visual stimulation” Fisher-Price
Image: Pexels

I haven’t been lying exactly, but lately, I have found that sometimes my answers are less than truthful. I suppose in the strictest definition, being less than truthful might technically be considered lying, but I prefer to think of it as responding with a fanciful answer.  I simply imagine reality as I wish it to be rather than it is. 

These days, I seldom give a completely truthful answer to the question, How are you?  I usually answer with a short, positive statement.  “I’m fine.”  “Pretty good.”  “Can’t complain.” “Couldn’t be better.” I found an online site teaching English as a second language that suggests five responses to that question…all in the affirmative.  Negative responses are in the advanced lesson. I answer that I’m fine because that’s how I’d like to be…how I’m hoping to be…how I will be…but that’s not always truthfully how I am.

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

When I’m asked that question, I want to say things…shout things… like… I’m really tired of this pandemic; I’m getting sick of Zoom and FaceTime; I’m weary of being alone, yet even with the vaccine, I’m still hesitant to be with others; I don’t think I even remember how to be with people; I’ve forgotten who I once was, and all these people who still refuse to wear a mask or social distance are making me crazy angry. I’m pretty certain that if I gave voice to any one of those responses that I’m holding back…assuming the person inquiring had time to recover from my rant…I’d be joined by a cacophony of other voices shouting, “Me too, me too.” 

But…I don’t.

Instead, I smile and say, “I’m fine.” “I’m doing well.” “Everything is all right.”

My Love-Hate Relationship With Zoom
Image: Pexels

In our society, the phrase, “How are you?” has been reduced to a perfunctory greeting…a simple formality…a nicety. Does anyone actually expect or even want a completely truthful reply?

“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

Swedish Proverb

Sharing our joy is easy…social media is filled with photos, videos, and posts expressing joy and happiness…but for many, it seems…sharing sorrow is more difficult. Problems, heartache, fears, and worry are universal. No one can escape sadness. Bearing such burdens would be easier, of course, if we reached out to each other. Instead, we stoically lift them to our shoulders and trudge on. We cover our fears, our uncertainties, our sorrows with a mask of “all-rightness.”

I suppose it is the risk of revealing our soft, tender places that prompts us to give the brief expected response. “I’m fine. How are you?” Exposing our vulnerability…sharing our pain demands a certain amount of trust and confidence. We enjoy the game, but we hold our cards close to the breast.

Years ago, when I apologized for a slight I thought I had committed, my friend, Carol, replied, “You know, you worry about the wrong things.” I know for her it was a casual, off-hand remark, but for me… an accomplished worrier…it became a challenge.

I worried about what I was worried about, and then I worried about what I should be worrying about. I suppose giving a less than sincere answer to a question as innocuous and commonplace as, “How are you?” is one of those things that come under the heading of…wrong things to worry about. Still, I must admit, I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering such things.

“One thing I can suggest is that when you start to go to a dark place, for you to consciously redirect your thoughts. Mind over mind. Make yourself think of something completely different. An image of something joyful or silly, and focus on that.” 

Sue Halpern, Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

Some people do jigsaw puzzles; some people run for miles; some people read stacks of books; apparently, I spend hours pondering the correct response to a cursory question.

Some People Make Jigsaw Puzzles
Photo Credit: Pexels

Recently, I discovered a long-forgotten, thirty-five-year-old scrap of paper that I had tucked inside a book. I had written several paragraphs comparing the benefits of showering vs. soaking in the tub. At the bottom of the page, I included a message to my future self explaining that I had spent time writing this wee document to take my mind off the troubling situation that was occupying my life at the time.

While unbidden or sudden distractions cause us to take our minds off the goal or our eyes off the road, they also invade our thoughts and lead us down paths we would rather avoid. That constant chattering monkey-mind that clutters our meditations or won’t allow us to fall asleep can be really annoying. Paradoxically, it seems to me that seeking diversions can be quite beneficial, calming, and ultimately helping us to focus. When we’re thinking about edge pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle, we have no time to think about when our children will be vaccinated, when the Canadian border will open, or if going to the grocery store in the afternoon is a wise idea.

We have filled an entire year with diversions of one sort or another. The list is long and varied. We have exhausted all our usual ways of filling time on a rainy day, and we are longing to get back outside and into the sunshine of our lives once again. We’ve helped each other through this challenging time, and we’ve discovered interesting solitary pursuits. I’ve never run a marathon, but I have the experience of long car-trips. When you have driven all night, those last couple of hours are the most difficult. That’s when you turn up the radio, roll down the windows and sing like a Rock Star.

Roll Down the Windows and Sing Like a Rock Star
Photo credit: Pexels

We’re almost there. We can make it. I’ve learned that even when there isn’t anyone else around…I can always shake those shiny keys and distract myself just a wee bit longer.

Masking Up

“Wear a mask.”

Dr. Anothny Fauci, CNN Interview, May 21, 2020
Masks Now Have Their Own Container

Almost exactly…one of my favorite oxymorons…one year ago, the entire world went into isolation. Suddenly, we could no longer visit friends and family, gather in church on Sunday morning, or cross the border into Canada. “I have a feeling we won’t be doing this for a while,” said my sister, Kelly, as we enjoyed her fabulous Friday night pizza together. That night we had no way of knowing just how prophetic her words would be. Now, just one day shy of an entire trip around the sun, we will complete the two-week wait after our second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We’re still anticipating more guidelines from the CDC regarding what we can and cannot do after we’re vaccinated, but we know that sharing pizza and a glass of wine will be in our future once again soon.

The First Mask…Bandana and Rubber Bands
April 3rd, 2020

” He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, That shadows a dry thirsty land; He hideth my life in the depth of His love, And covers me there with His Hand, And covers me there with His hand.”

William James Kirpatrick and Fanny Crosby, He Hideth My Soul

I grew up in a small town in central, rural Michigan. Our neighborhood, full of kids, exemplified the post World War II Baby Boom. On warm summer evenings, it was common for a large group to join in games of Hide and Go Seek or one of its variations.  The coming darkness and the element of suspense that it provided enhanced every game. The street light on the corner of our yard was often home base.  The person who was “It” would cover their eyes and count.  5, 10, 15, 20——85, 90, 95, 100 Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie. Who’s not ready holler I…Ready or not.  Here I come.  The rest of us would seek a safe place to hide…to take shelter…all the time wondering if the place we had chosen was good enough.  Could we be seen?  Would we be found out?  Could we tag home without being caught?  I don’t know when I discovered it, but I found that there was the perfect hiding spot behind the shrubs beneath my parents’ bedroom window. The way into this hidey-hole was tricky, but once there it was almost impossible to be seen.  I remember the smell of the piney branches and the damp earth as I waited for the seeker to move far enough away from the base to allow me to slip out, run, and tag myself free.  I used the protection of my sanctuary over and over with great success.  One evening however one of the younger kids…they were almost all younger kids…was in a panic. 55-60-65-70. She didn’t know where to hide.  The seeker would soon turn and discover her.  I watched…but made my decision within seconds. How could I have enjoyed the safety I’d found if I’d watched her be tagged out?  I leaned out from behind the bushes far enough to be seen as I beckoned her towards my hiding place.  Not in a cleft in the rock like the old hymn, but certainly a cleft in the shrubs. There was room for both of us…85-90-95-100.…we were both safe.  We were both free.

Tie-on Style
Thanks Bettie

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” 

Charles de lint

Now that I am almost fully vaccinated the chances of me contracting the virus are small and the chances of getting serious illness and dying are almost nil, but the jury is still out regarding whether or not I can spread the disease to others. I have found my place of refuge, but many family members and friends remain unprotected. Strangers on the street or pushing carts down the aisles of the grocery store are still desperately seeking the safety that I have found. So until they can tag home without being caught I continue to wear my mask, wash, sanitize and remain socially distant.

On the Dunes at Lake Michigan
August 2020

“If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.” 

Will Smith

Yes, I do what I can to keep others safe, but I didn’t reach this safe harbor, where I’m presently mooring my boat, completely on my own. This past year there were unnamed others taking risks…leaning out…to keep me safe. When the threat was high, others collected and delivered groceries right to my door. The mail carrier, those who provide my WiFi service, the truck drivers for UPS and Fed Ex, the magicians that keep Zoom working, and the myriad strangers who masked-up have all made it possible for me to remain behind the lines in this battle.

Standing Up for LGBTQ and Fighting Disease…a Multitasking Mask
Thanks Jen.

For me, continuing to wear the mask is simply an act of gratitude, compassion, and reciprocity. Yet, I am often overcome with an almost overwhelming feeling of connection and grace when I see others wearing masks too. It is something we do for each other. It is truly a physical manifestation of love, hope, and kindness.

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

Scott Adams

On the other hand, we’re all sick of wearing these darn things and are really ready to go maskless again, even as we acknowledge that the game’s not quite over and that this isn’t the time to give them the ol’ heave-ho. 75, 80, 85, 90. After all, no one wants to be tagged out in the final minutes of the game.

A couple years ago, on a trip with my friend, Anne, we found ourselves in a small Alsatian village often frequented by tourists…which of course we were at the time. At my suggestion, we ventured into a Kathe Wohlfahrt shop. I wanted a closer look at some of the Erzgebirge folk art I had seen in the window. Inside it was jam-packed with Christmas decorations and all things German. I suppose we could have turned around and walked back out after the first quick look from the door, but once inside it was too late. We soon discovered that the store had been set up in such a way that forced patrons to wend their way past all the displays on a winding path through the entire store. Bad choice on my part. Sorry, Anne. We could only move as fast as the people in front of us and the option of a retreat was negated by the people behind us. There was no other way out, but to go through the entire store.

“Lord, how long? As long as it takes to get me there. Going down to go up, Approaching heaven via hell, No other way. The only way out is through.”

Kathy Fuson Hurt, The Way Out

Until all of us have received the gift of hope in a syringe, the only real way out of this pandemic is to keep moving forward, moving through what lies ahead, providing safety for those still waiting, and avoiding “it” until we can all tag home together.

So…In case you were wondering, I’m still masking up.

Finding Wisdom in the Rocks

Late last August, my sisters and I decided that if we were careful…lots of ventilation, masks, and social distancing…we could safely travel north together to an out-of-the-way beach on Lake Michigan that would be perfect for hunting Petoskey stones…the state stone of Michigan.

Once at the beach, the three of us trekked down the embankment toward the water carrying sunscreen, sunglasses, and containers for our finds.  It was a gorgeous Michigan summer day and although we brought our swimsuits with us we left them in the car.  We’d be fine in our shorts. 

As we moved along the beach our goal was to get as far away from any people as possible. 

We were seeking solitude and safety but most importantly we hoped to find a stretch of the lake where no one had yet picked over the rocks that had been churned up by the waves and left near the shore for us to find. 

Dry Petoskey Stones Hiding in Plain Sight
August 2020

We clamber over tree trunks that had fallen into the water, large stones that jutted out from the shore, and piles of assorted slippery rocks and pebbles that acted like ball bearings pulling us toward the drink in our quest for the perfect spot. Presently, we reached the place, that by consensus, we agreed looked like the best place to begin our exploration.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were going to get wet…very wet,  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had those suits?  Since Penny is the most in shape we agreed that she should make the trek in reverse and go get our bathing attire.  In the meantime, Kelly and I would scour the rock-strewn beach and shoreline for treasures.

I had, of course, seen Petoskey stones, but I’d never found one.  They aren’t impossible to find in central Michigan where I grew up…but…I don’t remember it ever happening. As kids, we found lots of fossils, but never the coveted Petoskey.

These distinctive stones are the fossilized exoskeleton of a coral that lived about 350 million years ago in the warm waters of what was then an ancient sea. At that time, geographically, Michigan was near the equator and covered with waters that were perfect for clams, cephalopods, corals, crinoids, trilobites, fish, and many other life forms.

The Pattern Pops When Wet
Photo credit: Pixabay

The living part of the coral was called a polyp.  The dark spot in the center of the hexagonally shaped chamber was the polyp’s mouth. The animal had tentacles like most modern corals, that grabbed plankton as it drifted by then fed this food into its mouth. Like most things, knowing what you’re looking for makes it easier to find.  Even so, Petoskey stones often remain hidden until their distinctive pattern is revealed by water.  That’s one reason so many people hunt for them along the shores of the Great Lakes.

When Penny returned we snaked off our shorts and t-shirts and in the seclusion of our bit of beach we wriggled into our garments of nylon and spandex.  In truth, for me at least, it was more like the gyrations of a geriatric contortionist, but eventually, I had all my bits covered and was ready for the water.  Lake Michigan is like a smaller, tidier version of the Atlantic without the briny scent or the dependable tides.  When hunting for seashells at the ocean one merely has to wait for the water to recede with the tide and collect the bounty the waves have deposited on the shore.  Along the lake, you may find treasures in the sand, but hunting for gifts of the current in freshwater often requires looking beneath the waves.

Treasures Lie Just Beyond the Water’s Edge
August 2020

Yards from the shore Penny hollered, “Come on, you two.  If I knew you weren’t going to get out any deeper in the water than that I’d have never gone for the suits.”

She’s right, I thought, but before I could go more than a few feet out into the water I slipped on a hidden rock and went in face first.  Surprised and gulping for air, I got to my feet only to be kissed right on the lips by a huge wave.  Down again.  Spitting water and making my way to the shore,  I rose once again, but…those rhythmic waves just kept coming and I was down once more.  This time I held my head above water and swam-crawled to the sand only to discover my dear, sweet sisters laughing hysterically.

“Are you OK?” Kelly asked between fits of laughter.  Such sympathy and concern.  

Climbing from the water I made my way to one of the fallen logs to take a break.  Just as I did, the water that I was dripping, revealed the Holy Grail.  My first Petoskey!  It had all been worth it.  She was a beauty.

My Beautiful Friend and Teacher

“There’s a flame of magic inside every stone & every flower, every bird that sings & every frog that croaks. There’s magic in the trees & the hills & the river & the rocks, in the sea & the stars & the wind, a deep, wild magic that’s as old as the world itself. It’s in you too, my darling girl, and in me, and in every living creature, be it ever so small. Even the dirt I’m sweeping up now is stardust. In fact, all of us are made from the stuff of stars”.

Kate Forsyth

“Listen to the rocks and mountains,” instructed my Native American friend. “They have great wisdom.”

At the time, I dismissed this thought out of hand. What could a non-living thing teach me? Over the years my sensibilities and understanding have undergone an awakening. I have begun to recognize that there is a deep connection that exists between and within all inhabitants of the natural world. The same elements…the same atoms…the same stardust that is in me is present in all that surrounds me. Life is too complicated to leave all the lessons to sentient beings. Perhaps, if we listen closely we’ll understand the tutorials of the quaking Aspen and the rhythmic crash of the ocean as it kisses the shore, or the lessons taught by the intertwining roots of the Giant Redwoods and the Sunflower always keeping her eyes on the prize.

“Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher.”

Morihei Ushiba

As a novice collector, I soon learned that many tedious hours of hand-sanding…with water and increasingly finer grit sandpaper… is the most common way to bring out the hidden pattern of Petoskey stones. I’ll admit, after hours spent together, I developed a friendly relationship with this once-living creature as I worked and like any good friend, she taught me a great number of lessons. Oh, there was the obvious lesson of patience, perseverance, and purpose, but there was also the unexpected message of rebirth and redemption.

One of Mom’s Favorite Beaches to Hunt Petoskey Stones
Point Betsy, August 2020

Imagine it. For a time beyond my comprehension, this piece of calcified coral has been on a journey to find me. It traveled north with the movement of tectonic plates, was buried during the ice age, was scraped up by the glaciers, and buffeted about beneath the waves of Lake Michigan until it came to rest on the beach where it waited for me to recognize it, pick it up, and joyfully carry it home to be sanded, polished, and treasured.

She is a determined instructor and her lessons are still being taught when I focus and listen, but for now, it’s enough just to know that the universe is full of unimaginable adventures still awaiting me and that I really have no way of knowing upon which rock-strewn stretch of beach I’ll be found.