The Promise on My Ticket

“The three most exciting sounds in the world…anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

George Bailey…It’s a Wonderful Life
The Jacobite Train…aka The Harry Potter Train
Glenfinnan, Scotland October 2021

I don’t know if I could reduce all the beautiful sounds of the world down to just three, but I would certainly agree with George Bailey that the sounds of travel are some of the very finest. I simply love to go adventuring! Although still cautious, after two years of Covid restrictions, I am encouraged and delighted by the fact that the world is slowly beginning to open up once again. Ironically, as fate would have it, just as it’s getting safer to throw a suitcase in the back seat and hit the road, gas prices are at an all-time high. Nevertheless, I continue to scour travel guides and maps, planning the perfect route for future trips, tours, and adventures. Studies confirm that planning, booking, and anticipating a trip are beneficial to our health and wellbeing.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Ursula K. Leguin

Philosophers, poets, and writers stress the importance of the journey, not the destination. Experienced travelers know the value of being open to unexpected challenges, changes, detours, as well as unplanned joys, discoveries, and glimpses of rainbows. It’s not only about where we arrive but how we get there.

The Road to Killin.
Along Loch Tay, Scotland, October 2021

Of course, it’s important to enjoy the flight. We take pleasure in the wee bag of pretzels, the cola in a plastic cup, and we choose the window seat so we can dream above the clouds, but we also need the gratification of eventually getting off the plane. I can’t think of anything worse than constantly traveling and never arriving. I love the journey, but occasionally, like a little kid, I want to ask…Are we there yet?

For some, the idea of destination may imply…an end…the finale….the place we hope to arrive…eventually…death, perhaps….but not without first going through the hassle of Detroit Metro, Logan or Schipol. Instead, I prefer to think of destination as the promise on my ticket of places I’ll stop along my journey. Sometimes I’ll get out of the car and tramp through the woods, paddle my kayak, or ride the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus. Other days will find me stuck with a long layover, a flat tire by the side of the road, or waiting for lost luggage.

Reunited with Old Blue
October 2021

Last October, I was separated from my suitcase for the first eight days of a vacation. Ultimately, my wayward luggage was delivered to our condo hours after we had checked out. This frustrating experience required a complete reworking of our planned route so we could return to collect it. While definitely NOT what we had anticipated or desired, the new course brought us near two great sites we would have missed had we followed our original path.

Kilchurn Castle
Loch Awe, Scotland, October 2021
Packhorse Bridge…1717
Carrbridge, Scotland, October 2021

Sometimes the destination we reach is better than the one we were seeking. But, of course, that works with opposite results too. I remember very well the afternoon my GPS took me to a deserted gravel pit instead of the bridal shower I had intended. In the end, I was a tad late, but after turning my car around and adjusting my route, I arrived in plenty of time for cake. We can always turn the car around, plot a different course, buy a new ticket, or rearrange the furniture where we land.

Throughout life, we have many destinations…places we go for adventure, locations we seek for refuge and answers, regions that are dark, depressing, scary, and seem to take our very souls, and ports of great joy and happiness. However, we don’t stay in any of these places for long, for we must always journey on.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Seeker. As I’ve traveled through life, my destinations have included the search for answers, the quest for truth, and the hope of finding a light to guide my path. I have journeyed through the land of love and friendship, the valley of loss, regret, sickness, pain, sorrow, and the sunny meadows of bliss, wonder, and amazement on my trek. I’ve carried no passport on this pilgrimage, but each stop along the way has placed its own stamp of entry on my soul.

Once the hotel is booked, the tickets purchased, and the itinerary confirmed, anticipation and anxiety come together in what the Swedes call resfeber (RACE-fay-ber). Resfeber is described as the restless race of a traveler’s heart in anticipation of a trip or that tangled feeling of fear and excitement before a journey begins. Most travelers know that feeling well as we double-check our lists, secure our passports and wallets, and check once more that the stove was indeed turned off. So, I mark the days until my next adventure. I have a confirmed reservation, my suitcase lies open waiting to be filled, Covid tests are ready, and resfeber is beginning to set in.

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so get on your way!”

Dr. Seuss
The Golden Highway
Isle of Harris, Scotland, October 2021

My adventures no longer find me on the crest of the hill. Now I am wending my way slowly down the steep western bank. This pace allows me to enjoy the wind on my face and the flowers at my feet. It gives me time and space to recall, relive, and relish those backroads and safe harbors of my past journeys. However, as the path becomes more challenging, I simply have to plan more stops along the way, discover new destinations, and buy as many tickets as possible. 

Eventually, I will reach the coastal plain, and the final destination will appear before me…but…until then, I am savoring each moment of the journey and delighting in all the destinations that lie ahead. Whoo! Hoo!

Scott’s View
Hawick, Scotland, Near the English Border, October 2021

Stay Where Your Feet Are

“Wherever your feet are let your head and heart be also.”

S D Armstrong
Covid Caution Comfort

Living alone and in covid caution, I find that I am spending an inordinate amount of time conversing with that tiny little voice in my head. We’re like best buddies spending hours together in front of the fire, sipping mango-ginger tea discussing the profound and the mundane. Sometimes we agree on a conclusion, but we often talk in circles. Lately, we’ve been discussing being present, what exactly that means, and perhaps more importantly…how to achieve it. One of us will stress the importance of living in the moment while the other blethers on about making plans and considering options. We wonder… if we only have the present moment…what happens to memories of the past or desires for the future? It’s confusing.

I know I don’t want to live my life constantly looking backward at the past or the way things used to be. But, conversely, I don’t want to live my life in a future of…someday I’m gonna… or… it’ll be better when. Wouldn’t it be a pity if I fail to recognize each unique, unrepeatable moment by remaining stuck in a past that has already taught all its lessons or in anticipation of a future full of what-ifs? Perhaps living in the present means existing in the space between.

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

Thich nhat hanh

Since I prefer discussions to nearly any form of physical activity, I find it rather remarkable that I…a rather slug-like person…have more than one friend who has ridden a bicycle from one shore of the United States to the other. Years ago, my friend, Linda, was the first to take up the challenge. Her route was mapped, and her stops were planned. She was trained, fit, and ready to go. She dipped her bike tires in the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon, then set off to meet three young men who were going to make the trip with her. Together they began the adventure.

At some point early on, Linda became separated from her companions. In those pre-cellphone pre-internet days, with no hope of reconnecting with the guys, she wandered into a cafe to grab a cup of coffee and ponder her next move. Before long, she was relating her tale of woe to four of the coffee shop regulars who were seated at a nearby table. She was disheartened and discouraged. Could she go on alone, should she go on alone, or did it make more sense to pack up her bike and take the next flight home? The old men listened carefully, and then the one with the salt and pepper whiskers and a Johnny Cash t-shirt put down his cup and looked at her earnestly. Then, slowly and deliberately, he asked, “Can you do today?”

“Sure, I can do today,” she replied.

“Then do today. You can always quit tomorrow.”

And so it went all across the United States. Each day she would rise and ask herself. “Can you do today? Then she’d add,” You can always quit tomorrow.”

Knowing that she only had to do today and could always quit tomorrow gave Linda permission to cast worries aside and be fully awake and aware during this never to be repeated adventure. Together with the preparations and conditioning she had done, this simple idea allowed her to move forward one day at a time while staying right where her feet were… in the toe clips of her bike…alive, joyful, and open. She lived each day enjoying the wind in her hair, feeling the aching muscles of the climb, marveling at the beauty of the earth that surrounded her, grateful for the blessings of people she met along the way, and truly living in the present moment.


You Can Always Quit Tomorrow
Photo credit: Pexels-Pixabay

“Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

George Harrison”

It’s probably true that if I want to hear God laugh, I just have to tell Her my plans. On the other hand, having a plan…preparing for what might lie ahead…takes much of the worry out of an uncertain future and allows us to live with confidence that all will be well. Using lessons from the past, we can see the path forward and can relax, be present, and delight in the ride.

It’s not necessary to forget or ignore the past to live in the moment. Just don’t stay there. Check the weather report, study for the test, make sure there’s gas in the tank, and then let it be what it will. We’ve done what we can. Pay attention, savor, and enjoy. Then even if things don’t work out the way we want or expect we’ll know that everything will be all right.

All of life is lived in short, bite-sized pieces…days, hours, minutes. Ordinary moments. None of us can do more than live the best now we can. We don’t have to do life all at once. We just have to do it one day at a time. And…there are times when we need to remind ourselves…that each day is lived one hour…one minute… at a time. Sometimes it’s enough just to do that one hour…that single minute, knowing that even in moments of pain, despair, fear, and grief, living in the moment can help us find peace, hope, and grace. 

“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.”

Oprah Winfrey
The Chapel at Sunrise
Star Island 2021

One summer, as the week was winding down at the Arts Retreat on Star Island, the minister for the week, Rev Bill Clark, gave us this instruction “Don’t leave the island,” he said, “until you leave the island.”

All of our off-island problems would be waiting for us onshore when The Thomas Layton docked in Portsmouth. So why pick up that luggage before it’s absolutely necessary? With seven miles separating us from the mainland, why squander our remaining time concerning ourselves with that we couldn’t control anyway. Instead, drink in the startling beauty of the star-studded sky, the comforting warmth of friendships, the peace of a chapel full of candlelight, and the orchestral sound of sea birds and waves…remembering to stay where our feet are, living in the glory of now.

The White Island Lighthouse
September 2021

We build our future upon bricks we laid in the past and let go of what we can’t control, realizing the only time we really have is the moment we are living. Sometimes that includes creating the grocery list, putting gas in the car, and making the bed. Mountaintop experiences are rare, so we must find joy in the ordinary, the mundane, and the common. Let the chocolate melt on our tongue. Feel the crunch of snow beneath our feet. Watch the birds at the feeder. Smile at strangers and hold our loved ones close. After all, I ask that wee voice…isn’t that living in the moment and being present for life?

“THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

Epilogue….Two months later, Linda dipped her tires in the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine

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

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.

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 help 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.

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.

Just Waiting For My Turn

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold H. Glasow

Back in December, after having lived through a very challenging year, several of my friends began to contemplate the idea of choosing a word that would guide them through the coming year, a word that would become a mantra of sorts and one upon which they might meditate in the days to come. These friends shared the words that had guided them in previous years along with the words they were considering for 2021. I found this entire idea rather intriguing.  What word would I choose, I wondered.

When I settled on patience as the word that would guide me into 2021, I optimistically envisioned myself sitting before a fire with a glass of wine, the warm glow of candles, and snow softly falling just outside my window, as I crocheted, read, or was absorbed in something entertaining and life-affirming on the television.  I’d be uncomplaining, calm, and perhaps even serene as I waited for my turn to get the COVID vaccine or Spring…whichever came first. 

“It is strange that the years teach us patience; the the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

Elizabeth Taylor

Reflecting on the word I chose, now only three weeks into the new year, I’m reminded of a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Thinking he has found The Holy Grail, the villain drinks from the golden goblet and soon shrivels away to dust.  The Grail Knight, who has been guarding the true chalice, then remarks in a slow, deliberate tone, ”He chose…poorly”.  I think I too, may have chosen…poorly.

In truth, there was a fair amount of hubris in my decision. Certainly, I’d have the strength of character and the fortitude that comes with age, to be able to postpone the gratification that would arrive with the vaccine…or…Spring.

Spring Flowers Are A Long Way Off

But, wait a minute. Who was I kidding? I realize that I have to wait, but I don’t know what gave me the idea that waiting would be easy. After nearly a year of COVID isolation, I have crocheted the same pattern at least five times, I have trouble reading unless I get large-print text, and I’ve already binged watched all fifteen seasons of my favorite detective series. I am almost out of wine and I’ve been out of Diet Coke for a week.  There is snow outside my window…but it arrived with ice and slush as well.  Not exactly what I had envisioned. 

Public school prepared me to stand in line and wait my turn.  I never push or shove and although I might think about cutting the line, my conscience makes it a near impossibility. I immediately merge when the sign says lane closed and never try to pass cars expecting to squeeze in ahead of others. And more than once I’ve stood outside a closed bathroom door giving the present tenant privacy and time to complete their tasks only to discover that it had been unoccupied the entire time. I understand the morality of waiting, taking turns, and remaining in your place in line. I was taught well.

I really don’t mind standing in line when everyone is waiting equally.  I like take-a-number and I appreciate serpentine lines where you move up one at a time. You reach the head of the line after those before you have been served. Then…as it should be…it’s your turn. 

The British Crown Jewels

Twenty years ago, I joined a long line in The Tower of London to see the British Crown Jewels. It’s not often the approach to an event is as memorable as the event itself, but I have remembered this experience for two decades. The line of courteous visitors wound through two adjoining rooms. Videos of the Royals wearing the pieces we were about to see played on the walls.  When we reached the cases filled with the royal treasures, we stepped onto a moving walkway that carried everyone, at a snail’s pace, past the crowns, scepters, and the rest of the collection.  There was no jockeying for position because tall and short visitors had equal access. At the end of the walkway, people could exit the building. If, however, you wished to take another quick look, a docent would direct you back to the people-mover and you’d take your place once again.  It was such an orderly, efficient, and just system.

The worst standing-in-line experience I can remember was in Moscow in 2002. It took us two hours to go from our plane through passport control. It was a small airport and there weren’t many arriving passengers. It wasn’t that the officials were that thorough or that the process was complicated. The problem was that the line was very fluid.  People pushed, elbowed, and bullied in front of others who were ahead of them. My public school line-training and years of Sunday school lessons wouldn’t allow me to return a shove for a shove or even put up much resistance.  All in all…it was not a pleasant experience.

Four Wonderful Words!
Photo Credit…Pixabay

Standing in line for the loo is a uniquely female adventure and has taken place in every country I’ve ever visited.  There’s a special kind of bonding that takes place in the brief connection of women in bathroom lines. Of course, like any other kind of line, some remain silent and keep to themselves, but generally, women in long lines exchange smiles at the very least and often strike up conversations, share tissues from their purse when the TP has run out, and point out stalls that have just become available.  It is a temporary community of common need.

When we reached St. Petersburg, on that trip to Russia, we were treated to a fantastic lunch and entertainment in the Music Pavilion on the grounds of Pavlovsk Palace. While most elegant in every other aspect, there was no running water and no plumbing. Two porta-potties had been set up in the back. Presently, I found myself outside the familiar blue buildings in the ubiquitous line of women. 

The Music Pavilion Nineteen Years Later…Upgraded to THREE porta-potties.
Photo Credit: Visit-Petersburg.ru

Irene, who had quite a commanding presence on an ordinary day, proclaimed in a voice of added authority, “I’ve had just enough vodka to be assertive.” she said forcefully.  “We are all going to wait equally.  None of this his and hers stuff.  It will be first-come, first-served.” 

“Yes!” the rest of us exclaimed with smiles and muffled cheers. 

You can imagine what happened when my husband found himself in need of the WC.  Seeing two units and a single line of women, he assumed that, as is normally the case, the one without a line was standing at the ready for the next man to arrive…him.  Hilarity ensued as the women quickly put him in his place at the rear of the line.  I was told that one of the women even threatened with her cane, but I can’t swear to that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve waited for a vaccine. In the 1950s, my classmates and I were herded into the school gymnasium where we took our places in a long line that snaked around the room. I was too young to understand the promise the polio vaccine held for us. All I knew was there were a lot of kids crying. I wasn’t in a big hurry to get to the front of that line. How times have changed! Today it is the elders…those same kids from the ’50s and ’60s…who are counting on the promise that comes in a syringe. This time all the tears are tears of relief.

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.

Unknown…Probably a Woman

Perhaps there was more wisdom in my selection of patience as the word to lead me forward than I thought, for it has already taught me important lessons. I know that kicking and pushing won’t get me to my goal any faster. Even if they would, my belief in the inherent fairness of taking turns is so ingrained that I would never employ them. I know that friendship, connection,  kindness, and sometimes even humor are possible in the communal act of standing resignedly together in a line waiting. I know, too, that no matter how long the queue there is always an end and the eventual reward is worth all the effort. If life is indeed a journey, not a destination, then it may follow that waiting is also a journey. The length and speed of the line…like life… are out of my control, but whether I find a way to enjoy the trip or rail against it is up to me.

I’m considering cookies or maybe chocolate as my word for next year.

Chocolate, cookies, and tea.
Photo credit…Pixabay

One Foot in Front of the Other

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin

Several years ago, my granddaughter and I took a short hike toward a promised overlook. It was obvious that she was really not enjoying this adventure. Her foot hurt, she was tired, and she wanted to turn around. The ‘beware of bears’ sign didn’t help either. We stepped off the wooded trail to rest on a large boulder while we considered what we would do. In this small clearing, the sun’s rays shone down upon us, no longer filtered through the leafy overhang. We could hear the rush of a small stream as it played amongst the pebbles on its way to the sea and wildflowers were peeking through the scrub in their dresses of white and blue and yellow and orange. It was just a brief moment of light in the forest. After this short respite, we stepped back onto the path, into the shadows, and beneath the umbrella of leaves.

Glacier National Park

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

C.S. Lewis

Grief is like that too. As I hike the trail through this valley, the trees open up more frequently to moments of light and flowers and joy, but without warning, I look around and find myself once again in the gloom of thick underbrush and beneath branches that block the sun. Even so, if I keep myself open, grief continues to teach me her lessons. Fear, courage, and bravery are on the first page of her syllabus. It takes a certain amount of daring to face the disorientation and uncertainty of life after a loss. Nothing is as it once was and it’s difficult to find your bearings. To live without equilibrium takes strength, faith, and fortitude.

Grief is also about becoming untethered. It’s about losing an identity. Losing a map and compass all at once – a way to orient our life.

Samantha Smithstien

“You’re so strong and brave,” people told my friend at the death of her second husband. “I’m not brave or strong,” she replied. ” I just get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.”

Each day we make the choice whether to pull up our big-kid pants, put our feet on the ground, and take those steps forward…or not. Often, we’re doing well to sit on the edge of the bed and just think about moving and there are days when even that is a stretch. But, with courage, hope, and a great deal of bravery eventually, we shuffle our feet and move to the music of life.

One Foot In Front of the Other and Lead with Love

I decided that this year one of my goals is to consciously work on being brave. “Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, ” I chant to myself throughout the day hoping that at some point it will become internalized and I can change this admonition into an affirmation. “You are brave! You are brave! You are brave!”

For me, being brave means moving forward not necessarily with confidence, but with faith. It is the belief that scrambling over the obstacles life puts in our path will make the next hill a little easier to climb. Being brave acknowledges that we’re all going to stumble, fall, and skin our knees. It also gives us the resilience not to let those set-backs put a halt to our progress. Being brave allows us to laugh at ourselves when we trip and land spread eagle on the ground, our glasses askew, and those big-kid pants on display for the world to see. Bravery reminds us we just need to get back up.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

On my December trip to Vermont as darkness fell and after hours of driving, I accidentally turned off the road I knew, the road I meant to be on, and started down an unplanned route. In that instant with a single right turn, I was facing my top three fears…being alone, being somewhere unfamiliar, and making an error in judgment. The disembodied voice from my GPS assured me that I could indeed go forward on the new road and that it would lead me to my destination. Since I had never approached my destination from this direction I thought perhaps the GPS knew a better way. She didn’t. Following her instructions, I found myself in upstate New York, on the wrong side of Lake Champlain. She’s taking me to a bridge, I thought. She wasn’t. At 10:30 on a Wednesday night, I found myself at the ferry dock which had been closed for hours. I was on the wrong side of the lake, I didn’t know where exactly I was, I had no idea how to find the bridge, I was tired, and it was beginning to snow. In all honesty, it was scary.

Seyon State Park, Vermont
New Year’s Eve, 2019

Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

With help, via cellphone from my son; after figuring out how to override the GPS that kept trying to take me back to the ferry; and with a great deal of positive self-talk as I drove twisty, snow-covered and deserted back roads I eventually found my way to the bridge and familiar roads in Vermont. I was disgusted with myself for not simply returning to my regular route after making the wrong turn and yet, facing my fears and solving the challenge of the situation was exhilarating and empowering. Half of being brave is just breathing and taking that next step.

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be brave. Be brave. Be brave.” Yes, this is my mission for the year. I was never courageous enough to climb the huge pine tree with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. I missed seeing the world from that lofty vantage point. What else will I miss if I don’t dare to live my life as it is, even if it is still a little out of sync? I’m learning to be brave, so I’m pullin’ ’em up and I’m steppin’ out.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Rainer Maria Rilke with

If You’re a Worm…Sleep Late

The Virtual Jar

As the end of the year approaches and thoughts of the New Year are slipping into our consciousness a simple suggestion begins to pop up on social media. Write your gratitudes on a slip of paper at the end of each day. Put the slip into a glass jar and a year from now you’ll have 365 reminders of the many blessings that you have enjoyed during the year. I immediately liked this idea when I first read about it several years ago, but being in possession of assorted diaries that are blank beyond February, I was aware of limitations…I’m not always that good at follow through. “What if I had friends willing to undertake this idea with me?” I wondered.

And so it was that in January 2014, fifteen Facebook friends, whose only connection to each other was their relationship to me, committed to one year of sharing blessings, joys, and happy surprises with each other in a secret online group. We called it The Virtual Jar. We filled the jar…the virtual jar…with the description of small joys, pleasures, and wonders as well as photos, memes, poems, and paragraphs about the large events in our lives as well. The group commitment kept us all involved and at the end of the year we were indeed able to all look back on the blessings and gifts in our lives. Sharing the riches of our lives, was uplifting and encouraging, but the added bonus of this exercise was listening as these women reframed misfortunes, disappointments and sorrows into a positives worthy of gratitude. By their example I discovered that on the days it’s a challenge to find something to smile about simply changing your point of view could make all the difference.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective in the past few months as I went through the process of moving from Vermont to Michigan. Many of my friends…in Michigan and Vermont…knew of my decision, but of course nothing is totally official until it has been posted on Facebook. When I finally made my plans public the juxtaposition of the comments made by my two groups of friends was quite humorous. My Vermont friends left messages of shock and sadness, while my Michigan friends left messages…in the same thread, I might add…of surprise and delight. The same facts, but the reaction was totally based on perspective.

Change Your Perspective

One November, decades ago while Dave was in the UP…Upper Peninsula…of Michigan deer hunting, I came home from shopping to discover that my electric blanket had been smoldering all day and my mattress, while not yet in flames, was also slowly burning. I called my friend and asked if her husband was home. “Yes”, she drawled. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” I replied, “Could he come down and help me? My mattress is on fire.”

Yes, I know the situation left the door open for all kinds of joke telling…husband away…hot mattress and all…but at the time I was just concerned about getting the bedding out of the house. I also know I should have called the fire department, but…like I said…I just wanted that hot mess out the door. Of course, once the smoldering fabric hit the oxygen of the outside air, flames erupted and it made quite the sight out on the lawn until we doused the blaze.

The next day at work my friend said, “Boy, you were really lucky.”

“Well…I was thinking that if I were really lucky the fire wouldn’t have started at all.”

“But you are lucky,” she said. “You are very lucky that you have a house that could have burned down. Not everyone has a house that they could lose. You do.”

I’ve often thought about that logic and being prompted to look at the situation from another vantage point.

My sister and her husband live on the Muskegon River. Shortly after carpenters had completed a project installing new gutters on the front of their house a large tree fell onto the roof, taking a large chunk out of the brand new gutters. When they surveyed the damage they noticed that although the roof and the gutters would have to be repaired…again…without the tree blocking their view they were suddenly able to see the beauty of the river much more clearly. Like the 17th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide, who wrote: “Barn’s burnt down –now I can see the moon,” they were literally given a new way of seeing, but more than that, in the case of the poet and also in my sister’s case, looking at the entire situation in the less obvious way gave them a new perspective. Instead of lamenting what was lost they rejoiced at what was newly discovered. Well…at least until they get the bill for the gutters.

Changing the way we look at things can be healing and helpful. Leaving Vermont was like suffering another loss; another grief. I mourned as the Green Mountains of Vermont gave way to the plains of Ontario. For more than four hundred miles I was leaving a place and people I love until suddenly, just as anticipated, my perspective changed. I was no longer sadly leaving Vermont I was arriving in Michigan with a sense of excitement, adventure and looking forward to being with other people I love.

I-89 North of Montpelier

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

When my son was young we took him to the eye doctor. After the exam, the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with this boy’s eyes.”

“But his teacher said he can’t see the board,” I exclaimed in a puzzled voice.

“That’s ’cause Bruce’s head is in the way.”

As far as I know, the ability to change how we think about something is a uniquely human experience. For the most part, we can control where we stand to watch the sunset. We can choose where we sit to gaze at the stars. If Bruce’s head is in the way…just move our desk.

Sunset on Simon Pond, Tupper Lake, NY ADK

Peacemaking, acceptance, understanding and compassion are also the result of a change of perspective. Looking through another’s window might help to explain the way they see the world. We might not agree on what we see, but it is a beginning. At least we’d be looking.

It’s all just a matter of perspective.

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird–
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”

Shel Silverstein, Early Bird, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where We Love Is Home

Where we love is home… home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts…The chain may lengthen, but it never parts!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The Little House by Virginia Burton

I love my old house.

The center structure was built in 1810. Veterans of the Revolutionary War must have walked through her doors. She heard the first cars rattle past and listened to the bells on horse drawn sleighs moving past in the winter. A rather unassuming little house she has stood as a silent witness through two centuries of sunshine, rain, and snow.

The first owners and builders came from Scotland. The laid-up stone and granite foundation are a testament to their skills and artistry. Above my head I can see the cut-marks made two hundred years ago by an unknown craftsman as he took his adz and skillfully shaped once sturdy trees into the straight, sharp-edged, hand hewn beams that span the width of the room. In some places in the house evidence of the original paint remains…blue, red, and ocher. The wide boards lining the stairway are a silent reminder of the enormous trees that stood with outstretched limbs collecting the sun’s energy on long forgotten summer days. The village records report…although there is serious debate about the accuracy…that one hundred years ago, the room in which I sleep was a corn crib and more recently a kitchen.

My House on Cassie Street

I often think about all the people who have lived here, loved here, laughed and cried here, and yes, died here too. The previous owner recently shared that he and I are merely caretakers. “This house will be standing long after we are gone,” he said. But it was here we made a life, we made memories, and we, too, became a part of her story.

Both of my granddaughters took their early steps in this house. There were weddings, family reunions, card games, carol sings. book discussions, talks that went late into the night, lots of laughter…side splitting laughter…and plenty of tears too under this roof.

My grandchildren decorated Christmas cookies and dyed Easter Eggs at the kitchen table, played with puzzles and games on the floor, and watched episodes of Curious George from the living room couch and when I listen, I can still hear the voice of my mother and the heavy footfalls of my husband echoing within these walls as well. Leaving this old girl isn’t going to be easy.

Several years ago, I spent time with friends in a rental house near Booth Bay, Maine. One day we paddled our kayaks to a small nearby island where we stopped for lunch and to hike the short trail through the woods. I’m much slower than my friends, so within a few moments I’m pretty much by myself. I rather enjoy going at my own sauntering pace. On that particular hike I was surprised and delighted to find near the edge of the trail a rather crude little fairy house created from the moss, twigs, and smooth round pebbles. It was enchanting. I stood for a while smiling and imagining the creation of this wee abode.

When I was growing up, the kids in the neighborhood spent hours creating houses and forts…communities really…in the grass of the nearby fields and vacant lots. We’d flatten the tall grass into silken little nests that would be our own special, private place. My favorite was on an incline with a slight dip that just fitted me perfectly. Even as children, we are drawn to building and creating houses, hideouts, and sanctuaries…a place of our own…our regular pew, and like Sheldon, on The Big Bang…our spot.

“We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” 

Ari Berk, Death Watch

By a curious coincidence, a week before I put my house on the market…the last house that Dave and I bought together…the first house that we bought was also listed for sale. Feeling slightly voyeuristic, I clicked through the picture on Zillow. In the more than three decades many changes had taken place. My cheery yellow kitchen was now a teal blue and the hanging light fixture that Dave insisted we leave had been replaced by two modern ones. Parts of the house were unmistakable and others I hardly recognized.

Our First House
Carson City, Michigan

That house ceased to be ours a very long time ago and yet the home we had created there was still very much with me. I laughed when I recalled the afternoon we experimented with one of the first microwave ovens in town. “Let’s see what happens if we put this in there?” I had forgotten the built in oven, but seeing it reminded me of the morning-after surprise…we were much younger…when I opened the oven to discover that someone at our party had filled it completely with empty beer cans. I remembered hayrides, pool parties, and the time Dave brought the fire truck home to get it ready for an upcoming parade only to back the ladder through our garage door. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked incredulously. “I did,” I replied while cracking up with laughter.” “You couldn’t hear me, because you were running the siren!” What little boy hasn’t dreamed of driving a firetruck and engaging the siren? The door got fixed, but the story lives on.

“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,”

Edgar A Guest Home

Edgar A Guest, was the poet laureate of Michigan in the 1950s and my mom was a big fan. I can still hear the first line of his poem “Home” in my mother’s voice. With his words she taught me that a house is just a building, it only becomes a home by the living that happens within it.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 

Edgar A Guest Home

We may leave many houses over our lifetime, but if we’re lucky the homes we create within them will go with us wherever we are. We leave our mark on the places we live with paint, nails, and adz, but the echo of our laughter, the roadmap of our tears, and the hope, joy, and wonder of simply living our lives also remains. We leave a bit of ourselves, but we take the very best parts…our memories…with us when we close that door for the final time and hand the key to the next caretaker.